First Rafales deployed in the east, 101 Squadron poised against China - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Wednesday 28 July 2021

First Rafales deployed in the east, 101 Squadron poised against China

The first Rafales to be deployed against China land in Hasimara Air Force Base in West Bengal

By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 29th July 21 


The Indian Air Force (IAF) chief, Air Chief Marshal Raj Kumar Singh Bhadauria, formally inducted Rafale fighters into Number 101 Squadron, at Air Force Station Hasimara, in Eastern Air Command on Wednesday. 


With barely four fighter squadrons based in the eastern sector to counter the threat from China, the second Rafale squadron will come as a boost to the IAF.


Speaking during the induction ceremony, “CAS (Chief of the Air Staff) said the induction of Rafale had been carefully planned at Hasimara; keeping in mind the importance of strengthening IAF's capability in the Eastern Sector,” according to an IAF press release. 


The first Rafale fighters were inducted into the IAF fleet last September and stationed in Ambala, which became the home base for the first Rafale unit: 17 Squadron, also called the “Golden Arrows”.


Rafales are now being inducted to the IAF’s second Rafale squadron: Number 101 Squadron. The full two squadrons (36 fighters) were due to receive all their fighters by 2022, but delivery is running months behind schedule.


101 Squadron traces its history back to May 1, 1949, when it was raised at Palam, in Delhi. Over the years, it has operated Harvard, Spitfire, Vampire, Su-7 and MiG-21M aircraft, and has fought with credit in the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pakistan wars.


India concluded the purchase of 36 Rafales in September 2016, when the IAF signed a Euro 7.8 billion contract with Dassault Aviation, with delivery to commence in September 2019. That landmark was overshot by at least nine months, with the first Rafales arrived only in July 2020. 


The IAF is pressing Dassault to deliver Rafale fighters at an accelerated rate to make up for lost time.


Worryingly, Dassault is delivering Rafale fighters to India without their so-called “India specific enhancements”. These include specially ordered capabilities such as helmet-mounted sights, radar warning receiver, radio altimeter, Doppler radar and the ability to start up the fighter without assistance in extremely cold areas such as Ladakh. 


Dassault and the IAF have reached an agreement that the capability enhancements will be retrofitted later onto the IAF’s Rafale fleet.


On the plus side, the Rafale’s deadly suite of weapons has already been delivered by MBDA, ahead of the Rafale’s arrival. These include the Meteor air-to-air missile, which can reputedly shoot down an enemy aircraft 120-160 kilometres away. 


The IAF’s Rafales also carry the shorter-range MICA missile, which can approach enemy aircraft in passive mode, and start radiating only in the final stages, leaving the target no time to deploy countermeasures. 


The IAF’s Rafales are also carrying French SCALP deep-strike cruise missiles. These can strike hardened and protected targets deep inside hostile territory from stand-off ranges.

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