The Indian Air Force could deploy its new Rafale fighter jets in the Ladakh sector as part of India’s overarching plan to strengthen its military posture in the region, where Indian and Chinese forces are locked in a tense border confrontation and disengagement has turned out to be a challenging process, people familiar with the developments said on Sunday, ahead of a key IAF commanders’ meet this week.
Acting on a special request by the IAF, France is speeding up the deliveries of Rafale fighters to India and six jets are likely to land at their home base in Ambala on July 27 — instead of four that were originally planned to be delivered in the first batch.
“Air and ground crews have undergone full training on the aircraft including advanced weapons systems over the last one year in France,” said one of the officials cited above, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The IAF is looking at means to operationalise the Rafale in the quickest possible time and the new fighters could be deployed wherever there is a requirement including Ladakh, he said.
The possible role of Rafale fighters could be discussed at the IAF commanders’ conference in New Delhi from July 22 to 24 where the air force brass is expected to focus on the ongoing border row with China, the IAF’s preparedness and new purchases that have to be made to stay prepared for any eventuality, said a second official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.
India-specific enhancements on the jets include cold engine start capability to operate from high-altitude bases.
India ordered 36 Rafale jets from France in a deal worth Rs 59,000 crore in September 2016 as an emergency purchase to arrest the worrying slide in the air force’s combat capabilities.
The arrival of the Rafale will add punch to the IAF’s capability, said Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retd), additional director general, Centre for Air Power Studies.
“For sure, there will be a period of integration with other systems, and it (Rafale) would be put to use as the operational planners deem fit,” Bahadur said.