IAF may deploy Rafale fighters in Ladakh sector amid border row
The Indian Air Force could deploy its new Rafale fighter jets in the Ladakh sector as part of India’s overarching plan to strengthen its military posture in the region, where Indian and Chinese forces are locked in a tense border confrontation and disengagement has turned out to be a challenging process, people familiar with the developments said on Sunday, ahead of a key IAF commanders’ meet this week.
Acting on a special request by the IAF, France is speeding up the deliveries of Rafale fighters to India and six jets are likely to land at their home base in Ambala on July 27 --- instead of four that were originally planned to be delivered in the first batch.
“Air and ground crews have undergone full training on the aircraft including advanced weapons systems over the last one year in France,” said one of the officials cited above, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The IAF is looking at means to operationalise the Rafale in the quickest possible time and the new fighters could be deployed wherever there is a requirement including Ladakh, he said.
The possible role of Rafale fighters could be discussed at the IAF commanders’ conference in New Delhi from July 22 to 24 where the air force brass is expected to focus on the ongoing border row with China, the IAF’s preparedness and new purchases that have to be made to stay prepared for any eventuality, said a second official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.
India-specific enhancements on the jets include cold engine start capability to operate from high-altitude bases.
India ordered 36 Rafale jets from France in a deal worth Rs 59,000 crore in September 2016 as an emergency purchase to arrest the worrying slide in the air force’s combat capabilities.
The arrival of the Rafale will add punch to the IAF’s capability, said Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retd), additional director general, Centre for Air Power Studies.
“For sure, there will be a period of integration with other systems, and it (Rafale) would be put to use as the operational planners deem fit,” Bahadur said.
According to the original delivery schedule, the first 18 jets (including the four in the first batch) were to be delivered to the IAF by February 2021, with the rest expected in April-May 2022. Future deliveries will also being accelerated.
France handed over to India its first Rafale fighter during a ceremony attended by defence minister Rajnath Singh and his French counterpart, Florence Parly, in Merignac on October 8 last year.
In the Ladakh sector, the IAF is projecting its capability to carry out day-and-night, all-weather combat missions, with front-line fighter jets, attack helicopters and multi-mission choppers getting airborne regularly for demanding night-time missions from a forward base in the area.
The air force’s MiG-29 fighter jets, Sukhoi-30s, Apache AH-64E attack helicopters and CH-47F (I) Chinook multi-mission helicopters are among the platforms that are undertaking night missions in the mountainous terrain.
The Indian Rafales will be equipped with Meteor beyond-visual-range missiles whose no-escape zone is touted to be three times greater than that of current medium range air-to-air missiles.