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Rafale is a Delta Wing aircraft with `active close coupled canard’ to maximise manoeuvrability. The Electronic Flying Control System gives it exceptional handling characteristics. It has a glass cockpit built around the principal of data fusion and a central computer intelligently prioritise info to display to the pilots simpler command and control. 

Considering that Rafale is a multirole aircraft, the pilot’s work load has been reduced considerably through most functional switches being located on the throttle and stick. The state of the art avionics consist of the RBEZ-AA AESA Radar. This is an electronically scanned phased array radar which is far superior to a mechanical scan radar. 

The aircraft carries a multitude of weaponry. The Meteor beyond visual range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) has an effective range of approx 150 km. There is no comparable missile in its class. Scalp air-to-surface long-range general purpose stand-off cruise missile, which has a range of 300 km, is the most sophisticated available at this time. The deal includes a five-year Performance Based Logistics (PBL) plan which Dassault Aviation, the manufacturer, would ensure 75% serviceability. This also includes spares, components, rotables etc. Weapons are also included in the costing. The basic cost of each aircraft is approximately Rs 700 crore. However, it climbs to Rs 1,640 crore per aircraft if the PBL, weapons, training etc, are included. 

The cost increased due to certain India-specific requirements like helmet-mounted sight, radar warning receiver, low-band jammers etc. The Indian Air Force (IAF) went through a very rigid selection process based on specific Operational Requirements (ORs). Apart from Rafale, the other contenders were the Boeing F/A–18, Eurofighter, Lockheed Martin F-16, MiG-35 and Gripen. 

The process included technical evaluation and flight trials. The participant aircraft were flown in different parts of India through extreme hot and cold weather. Finally, Eurofighter and Rafale were shortlisted, and the “L1” – based on life cycle cost – prevailed. Around 50% of the cost would be ploughed back into India through the offset clause. Liability for the offset clause would be handled by Dassault, Thales, Airbus and other Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs). The principle manufacturer, Dassault Aviation, will have only 25% liability as per reports. Deliveries would begin after 36 months (2019) and will be completed after 67 months (2022). 

The IAF has projected a requirement of 44 fighter squadrons to face a two front threat. At present, the strength is down to 33 Squadrons. From 2016 to 2022, there will be a drawdown (reduction) of 11 squadrons of MiG-21s and MiG-27s. This would amount to a reduction of 220 aircraft. Without replacements, the IAF strength would deplete to 22 squadrons of fighter aircraft. Hence, the urgency to purchase Rafale. Albeit, the projected requirement was for 126 jets, the reduced number of 36 would still be a significant increase in capability. 

To make the required numbers, it is imperative that the Tejas (LCA MK1A) remains on schedule. Electronic warfare The programme is behind schedule and has already been pushed back to 2019. Issues pertaining to AESA radar and weapons are yet to be addressed. Interim discussion regarding Fifth Gen Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) with Russian collaboration is continuing. Increase in the numbers of SU-30 and Make in India programme for F-16, F-18 and Gripen are being considered. But the AESA radar combined with state of the art electronic warfare systems and avionics built around data fusion, gives Rafale a lethal capability. 

The combat potential ratio with our western neighbour, in terms of air assets, is 2:1 at this time. This would certainly increase substantially with Rafale. With our northern neighbour, it would give the IAF a discernible technological advantage. The IAF has different fighter aircraft in its inventory. The MiG-21, MiG-23, MiG-27, MiG-29, Jaguar, Mirage 2000, SU-30MK1 and Tejas (LCA) are presently flying. Rafale would be the ninth variety. This is undoubtedly a nightmare for maintenance, logistics activity and operational planning, and training of both ground crew and aircrew also becomes difficult. 

Eight types of transporters and six different helicopters only add to the magnitude of the difficulty. In the 1950s and 1960s, the IAF consisted of Canberras, Hunters, Gnats and Avros from Britain. At that time, the inventory also had the French Mysteres and Toofani (Ouragan) Fighter. Strategic bilateral relations with the erstwhile Soviet Union was in the upswing during the 1960s and 1970s. At this time, the US had offered the F-86 (Sabre) and F-104 fighters to Pakistan. 

India sought Soviet support for defence equipment and the flow of MiG-21 series started, during the late 1960s. The MiG-21s were followed by MiG-23, MiG-25, MiG-27, MiG-29 and SU-30. Transporters and helicopters included IL-14, IL-76, AN-32, MI-4/8/17. These were provided at rock bottom prices and on favourable terms. In 1978 came the Anglo-British Jaguar, and in 1985 the French Mirage 2000. 

The assortment of different aircraft, radars, weaponry and communications systems were procured due to strategic compulsions and limited choices. The constraints of procurement from different international original equipment manufacturers were not dictated by the IAF’s requirements alone but also by the politico-strategic considerations. Needless to state that this mix of such platforms, from so many different sources, could well have been avoided, if our indigenous development had achieved the desired success. The IAF will have to face the challenge of multiple platforms in the medium term. (The writer is former Western Air Command chief of  Indian Air Force)

SOURCE: Air Marshal P S Ahluwalia (retd) / DHNS

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