The induction of state-of-the-art Rafale fighter jets would significantly enhance the IAF’s overall operational capability to counter the Chinese threat and also provide effective deterrence against Pakistani aggression. The acquisition of 36 fighter fleet as part of the Rs 59,000-crore deal with France is set to change the technological imbalance India had in air vis-à-vis Pakistan’s US-supplied F16 aircraft with superior radar and missile system as well as China-supplied Chengdu JF-17, which is at the centre of the modernisation plans of Pakistani Air Force’s fleet. There has been a considerable delay in the delivery of the fighter jets as the country had witnessed a bitter political row over the procurement process, an issue that became a major campaign theme of the opposition in the 2019 general elections. It even threatened to turn out into a Bofors-like moment for the NDA government but it was not to be. The Supreme Court gave a clean chit to the deal last November and rejected the demand for a CBI probe. The arrival of the first batch of five Rafale aircraft at Ambala airbase has finally brought the curtains down on an unseemly political controversy. With its multi-role capabilities, including electronic warfare, air defence, ground support and in-depth strikes, the Rafale lends air superiority to the IAF. The timing of the induction assumes significance in view of the simmering border tensions with China with the recent stand-off at the Galwan Valley highlighting the need for India to ramp up its military capabilities.
Rafale, built by the French company Dassault Aviation, is the first operational European combat aircraft to use an electronic scanning radar, which is more effective than the mechanical ones in detection and can track multiple targets simultaneously. Rafale jet, to become part of the IAF’s ‘Golden Arrow’ squadron, is the first imported fighter aircraft to be inducted into the Air Force in 23 years after the Russian Sukhoi-30 fighters. The new acquisition is largely seen as a game changer because of the aircraft’s technological superiority. Traditionally, India’s approach to defence procurement reforms has been lethargic and largely indecisive. The perceived military superiority against Pakistan and a belief that China would adhere to the mutual restraint understanding may have lulled policymakers into a sense of complacency. However, the recent developments, involving instances of air combat with Pakistan soon after Balakot strikes and the Chinese incursions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), have shaken this complacency. The lofty talk of weapon indigenisation has proved to be futile in the face of rapidly changing security scenario. The much-touted ‘Make in India’ initiative in the defence sector is simply not adequate to address the needs of the armed forces.
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