Ahead of the three twin-seat and two single-seat Rafales touching down at the Ambala airbase on July 29, IAF brass will brainstorm on the operational situation along the 3,488-km Line of Actual Control, faster induction of the French-origin fighters and the “roadmap for the future” this week.
Air Chief Marshal Rakesh Kumar Singh Bhadauria will chair the commanders’ conference with chiefs of the seven IAF commands on July 22-23. “Much like the Army, IAF is also preparing for the months ahead. There is some disengagement between Indian and Chinese troops in eastern Ladakh, but de-escalation and de-induction of the rival military build-ups are still a long way off,” said a source.
“There is a huge trust deficit. IAF will have to maintain its high operational readiness all along the LAC as an effective deterrence against any Chinese misadventure. Consequently, steps are being taken to ensure high serviceability of fighters and helicopters with proper logistics. Airpower, after all, can be decisive in any battle,” he added.
Frontline Sukhoi-30MKI, Mirage-2000, MiG-29 and Jaguar fighters as well as the latest Apache attack and Chinook heavy-lift helicopters were inducted into eastern Ladakh and other forward airbases after the border confrontation erupted in early-May.
Though IAF is grappling with just 30 fighter squadrons (16-18 jets in each), far below its “authorized strength” of 42, the force believes it enjoys a qualitative and quantitative combat edge over its Chinese rival along the LAC, as was earlier reported by TOI.
IAF will now get some additional muscle with the first five Rafales in the 17 ‘Golden Arrows’ squadron. “The Rafales will take a few days to settle down. Most of the infrastructure is already in place at Ambala, while some of the IAF pilots and technicians trained in France have also arrived there,” said another source.
India has asked France to speed up delivery of the 36 Rafales under the Rs 59,000 crore deal inked in September 2016. With a combat range of 780-km to 1,650-km depending on mission, the jets are armed with deadly weapons, advanced avionics, radars, electronic warfare systems and self-protection suites to ensure superior survivability in hostile contested airspaces.
While the Rafales will be combat-deployable when they arrive at Ambala, capable of firing the over 300-km range Scalp air-to-ground cruise missiles and other weapons, the integration of the 120-150 km range Meteor air-to-air missiles will take some time.
The 13 “India-specific enhancements” on the 36 Rafales, ranging from radar enhancements and Israeli helmet-mounted displays to low-band jammers and “cold start” capability from high-altitude regions, will also become fully operational only after “software certification” once all the jets arrive by early-2022.