Rafale becomes India’s main fighter.
The French-sourced Rafale nuclear platform has become India’s true frontline fighter, replacing the Russian-sourced Su-30MKIs. In the past 15 years, only Sukhoi fighter jets have participated in India’s bilateral and multilateral war exercises.
This decision signals a change in India’s fighter jet lineup against arch-rivals China and Pakistan. Four multirole Rafale have flown to Mont-de-Marsan airbase in France as part of the Indian Air Force (IAF) contingent to join “Exercise Orion 2023”.
IAF spokesman, Wing Commander Ashish Moghe, stated that this would be the first overseas exercise for IAF Rafale aircraft and would enrich the Indian Air Force’s employment philosophy by learning from best practices from other aerial forces.
NATO Exercise Orion 2023
Orion 2023, a NATO exercise beginning April 17 and running through May 5, will focus on defensive operations of land, air, sea, and cyberspace. The FAI has sent a contingent of 165 airmen, officers, and cargo and air refueling planes to support the Rafale fighters.
The exercise involves approximately 12,000 troops from NATO countries and is based on a scenario developed by NATO to address the different phases of a modern conflict.
The main objective is to train the armed forces in a framework of multinational joint forces and coordinate means and effects throughout the spectrum of operations to face hybrid strategies.
Rafale in the Indian Air Force
India ordered 36 4.5-generation fighters from France in 2016 for nearly $8 billion. The first Rafales arrived at Ambala Airbase in October 2019 and joined an IAF squadron in September 2020.
In 2022, Dassault Aviation completed delivery of all 36 Rafale fighter jets, which have been arranged into two IAF squadrons. These squadrons will defend the Indian skies in different regions of the country.
During the ongoing military conflict against China in eastern Ladakh since April 2020, India has deployed its Rafale jets to carry out patrol missions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), testing the aircraft’s capabilities in an operational condition for the first time.
The importance of Rafale in the IAF
The Moghe wing commander also stated that the Rafale is now India’s frontline fighter, replacing the Su-30MKI fighters. The last time Russian-sourced Su-30MKIs participated in an overseas air exercise was in January 2023 at “Veer Guardian 2023” with the Japan Air Self-Defense Force.
In 2019, during the airstrikes on Balakot, India had used the Su-30MKI only in a support role, while the main strike was carried out by the Mirage-2000 made by Dassault Aviation, the Rafale’s sister.
Among the seven types of fighter jets in the FAI inventory, only the Mirage 2000, Su-30MKI, and Rafale can deliver a nuclear weapon, a key element of the nuclear triad India enjoys to lend credibility to its second strike capability under its 2003 nuclear doctrine.
India’s decision to send Rafale fighters to France for Exercise Orion 2023 marks a significant change in its combat aircraft fleet. It demonstrates the growing role of the Rafale in the Indian Air Force. Participation in this exercise will allow India to learn from the best practices of other air forces and improve its readiness to face modern conflicts in the future.