India and France on Friday signed a deal worth 7.87-billion-euro for Rafale fighter jets, equipped with latest missiles and weapon system. Here’s a breakdown of the aircraft’s capabilities by a senior retired Indian Air Force pilot. This article was originally published in May, 2015.
The ‘mother of all deals’ seems to be coming full circle – only that the circle has been drawn with an unsteady hand. After a well publicised, absolutely professionally executed evaluation of six top fighter aircraft of the world, the IAF shortlisted the Eurofighter and Rafale to meet its operational requirements of a Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA); in the event, the Rafale was declared a winner in 2012 due to its lower commercial quote.
The past three years have seen torturous negotiations reaching a logjam – as Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar stated in an interview to Doordarshan on 13 April – forcing the government to go the Government to Government (G2G) route for the Rafale.
In a way though, the action has just begun as the negotiations on this new route are not going to be any easier. The aircraft will come in cheaper due to the fact that there would be no transfer of technology involved and that the HAL workforce is costlier due to its inefficiency. They would also be delivered within an earlier time frame as the Marcel Dassault facilities are up and running in France.
So, what is this aircraft that has raised so much heat and dust in the past few years? It is worth taking a look at the Rafale’s operational specifics – in simple non-technical terms.
- The Rafale is twin-engined, with French company SNECMA’s M-88 2 engine powering it.
- The nose of the Rafale houses the latest generation Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar.
- It is a single pilot machine with a full glass cockpit – operational on the Hands on Throttle and Stick (HOTAS) concept. HOTAS means that all vital actions are executed by the pilot through switches, buttons and toggles on the pilot’s stick and throttle control. A two-seat trainer would also be included in the contract.
- The pilot has the advantage of a wide holographic Head-up Display (HUD) that displays vital flight parameters as well as weapon delivery cues in front of the pilot. The HUD enables the pilot to maintain a lookout in critical stages of flight.
- SPECTRA, the Electronic Support Measures (ESM) equipment that the Rafale carries, is a potent device to protect the aircraft in a hostile air defence environment that is prevalent in our neighbourhood.
- The aircraft has the capability to carry and fire a multitude of ordnance in terms of Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missiles and bombs, besides an integral 30 mm nose mounted cannon. BVR capability is vital as the pilot acquires an enemy aircraft on his radar and fires a BVR missile – before turning back in a safe direction to ensure separation from the adversary.
- The aircraft can be configured for carriage of nuclear weapons and would get included in the airborne part of the nuclear triad.
- The aircraft is maintenance-friendly, implying that the turn round time between two sorties is short and that important activities, like an engine change do not keep the aircraft non-operational for too long.
- With India on its way to net centricity and more Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) coming in, the Rafale would be an important cog in the wheel with its data linking capability.
The Rafale has been evaluated by a crack flight testing team from the IAF’s Aircraft and Systems Testing Establishment – there is no one better than them in the business. Our countrymen and women can rest assured that the tax payer’s money would be well spent on an aircraft that meets the needs of the nation.
(The author, a retired Air Vice Marshal, is a Distinguished Fellow at the Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi.)