Libya to Syria: Operational History of ‘Battle-Hardened’ Rafale
Here is a brief history of Rafale’s missions.
(This story has been republished from The Quint’s archives as the Rafale jets get inducted into the Indian Air Force on 10 September. This story was first published on 28 July 2020)
One of the deciding factors for the Indian Air Force to opt for the Dassault Rafale as the new addition to its fleet was the operational history of this French fighter plane. From Afghanistan to Libya to Mali, over the last two decades Rafale has proven its capabilities. We have put together a brief history of the missions this omnirole fighter has in its logbooks.
Rafale fighter planes operated by the French Air Force had their its first ‘real’ combat mission in 2011 against forces loyal to the then Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi.
Rafales played a key role in achieving air-superiority over Libyan airspace.
Their main mission was to destroy the Libyan air defences and launch an attack against units that had besieged the city of Benghazi. Rafales carried out their first strike mission on 19 March 2011. Even though the fighter planes were operating from Saint-Dizier base in North-east France, using air-to-air refuelling these fighters were able to undertake long missions which lasted seven to eight hours. Soon after, their mission changed to reconnaissance to gather intelligence.
Interestingly, Gaddafi had expressed interest in purchasing a number of them in 2007.
Even though Libya is considered as the first real combat mission of Rafale, these fighters were deployed in Afghanistan between 2006 and 2011. Rafales used their precision-guided, laser-guided bombs, and the 30 mm cannon in multiple locations. However, their role was limited during this operation.
In 2013, France launched Operation 'Serval' after jihadist armed groups began imposing their rule over the northern territories of Mali. Rafales were called in for action, once again.
Four Rafale fighter jets based themselves in N'Djamena in Chad. On 13 January, Rafales stuck rebel training camps, depots and facilities in the city of Gao, eastern Mali. Similar strikes were carried out in Timbuktu and Douentza.
Even in this conflict, Rafales used its air-to-air refuel capabilities to fly long-range sorties across Algerian airspace and into Mali.
Iraq and Syria
Rafales were called in for operations in 2014 as part of Operation Chammal in the fight against the Islamic State militants in Iraq. In the first few weeks of their deployment, the Rafales' role was confined to reconnaissance flights. Their task was to identify targets for the US fighter planes undertaking airstrikes against the Islamic State.
Soon Rafales joined American operations in conducting airstrikes. France conducted its first airstrike on 19 September against Islamic State targets in Iraq. Then president Francois Hollande announced that an Islamic State supply depot in north-eastern Iraq was struck. An Iraqi military spokesperson said that four French airstrikes hit the town of Zumar, killing dozens of extremist fighters.
As part of Operation Chammal Rafales operated in Syria also. French aircraft hit targets in Syria in early October 2015. The 13 November 2015 terror attack in Paris further intensified French air offence against the Islamic State in Libya. Rafales, as part of a fleet of fighters, struck training camps and ammunition facilities in Raqqa, Syria.
On Wednesday, 29 July, when the first batch of Rafales arrives at the Ambala air force station, they bring with them lessons learnt from two decades of operations.
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