Rafale jets with ‘game-changing’ weaponry likely to be deployed in Ladakh

First batch of six jets is likely to be delivered by July 27

Rafale-air-show-Yelahanka-PTI In this Feb. 17, 2019 file photo, a Rafale fighter aircraft seen during a rehearsal for fly-past at Yelahanka Air Base, in Bengaluru | PTI

The Indian Air Force could deploy the first batch of Rafale fighter jets in the Ladakh sector, amid ongoing tension on the border with China. First batch of six Rafale fighter jets, touted as the 'game-changer' in the region, is scheduled to arrive on July 27.

In the Ladakh sector, the IAF has already deployed its key air assets like Sukhoi 30, MiG-29, newly inducted Apache attack helicopters and Chinook heavy lift multi-mission helicopters. The IAF's two-day-long Commanders Conference from July 22 will discuss the developments related to Line of Actual Control.

The IAF targets to make these Rafale jets operational at the earliest and first squadron of the jets will be based at Ambala. IAF's order of 36 Rafale jets from France, with India-specific enhancements, cost Rs 59,000 crore. The deal was signed in September 2017 as emergency purchase in view of the declining combat strength of IAF. IAF is down with 31 squadrons against the sanctioned strength of 43 squadrons to meet two-front (China and Pakistan) challenge. Delivery of 36 Rafale jets is expected to be completed by May 2022.

Rafale jets have cold engine start capability, allowing them to be operated from high altitude airbases including Leh. The fighter’s weapon package, provided by MBDA, makes it the game-changer. According to MBDA, India’s Dassault Rafale combat aircraft will provide the IAF not just with a fast and agile modern fighter but one that comes armed with a highly potent set of weapons unrivalled by any of India’s neighbours. The weapon package includes Meteor beyond-visual-range (BVR) air-to-air missile, SCALP cruise missile and MICA, giving India an edge over its adversaries.

According to MBDA, the most famous of these weapons is the Meteor BVR air-to-air missile which is widely recognised as a game-changer for air combat. The Meteor is powered by a unique rocket-ramjet motor that gives it far more engine power for much longer than any other missile. This means it can fly faster, fly longer, and manoeuvre more than any other missile—giving Meteor the ability to chase down and destroy agile hostile fighters at even the farther ranges. As a result, Meteor has a no-escape zone many times greater than any other air-to-air missile.

India’s Rafale jets will also be equipped with the SCALP deep-strike cruise missile. "This stealthy weapon has proven repeatedly in combat its unerring ability to strike hardened and protected targets deep inside hostile territory—without the need for the Rafale to enter hostile airspace," MBDA said in a statement. SCALP’s operational effectiveness is the result of three key factors: high survivability thanks to its long stand-off range, low observability and sophisticated mission planning system; pinpoint terminal accuracy through its highly accurate seeker and target recognition system; and terminal effectiveness provide by its powerful tandem warhead and multiple detonation modes.

Then comes the MICA, a missile the Indian Air Force knows very well as it is also part of the upgrade package for the IAF’s Mirage 2000 aircraft. MICA is the only missile in the world featuring two interoperable seekers (active radar and imaging infrared) to cover the spectrum from close-in dogfight to long beyond visual range. Its ability to fly out to BVR in passive mode before the seeker locks on in the final stages of the end game has earned it the nickname “silent killer” as the target has little time to react or to deploy effective countermeasures.