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India to welcome Rafale jets: How do they stack up against Pak F-16s?

The IAF has revived the 17 Squadron, led by IAF Chief during the Kargil war, to welcome the Rafale fighter jets and prepare for a two-front attack against China and Pakistan. But can the Rafale decisively beat the F-16.

Rafale

India has deployed the ultra-sophisticated Rafale fighter jets to launch a two-front attack against Pakistan and China, in a bid to combat the Pakistan Air Force at the borders with Pakistan, and the Chinese Air Force at the northern front.

The Indian Air Force has appointed two squadrons for this two front attack.

Kargil’s Golden Arrows Revived

The Asian News International (ANI), an Indian news agency, reported that Indian Air Force Chief BS Dhanoa will revive the 17 Squadron, which was commanded by Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa during the Kargil war of 1999.

Nicknamed as the Golden Arrows, the 17 Squadron is being revived and will emerge as the first unit of the Indian Air Force to operate the French-manufactured fighter jets acquired by India.

New Delhi has forged an inter-governmental agreement with France, signed back in September 2016, for acquiring 36 Rafale fighter jet at the cost of Rs 58,000 crore.

ANI cited sources from the Indian Air Force as saying, “IAF Chief BS Dhanoa will be present on the resurrection of the 17 Squadron nicknamed Golden Arrows, which used to operate the MiG-21s earlier and was number-plated due to the phasing out of the planes operated by it.”

The Golden Arrows will emerge as the first squadron of Indian fighter pilots to welcome the first Rafale combat jet in India.

The sources added, “The first unit to receive the Rafale combat aircraft would be the 17 Squadron, which was earlier located in Bathinda in Punjab, and will now be shifted to Ambala in Haryana.”

Sources from the IAF revealed that the first squadron of the Rafale fighter jets will be deployed at the Ambala Air Force Station, which is regarded as one of the most strategically positioned air bases of the IAF, sprawling around 220km away from the Pak-India border.

The second squadron of the Rafale will be deployed at the Hasimara base in West Bengal to launch a west-facing attack to combat the Chinese might. India is expected to acquire its first Rafale fighter jet by the end of this month.

Indian media reports indicate that Indian Air Force has already completed the preparations to welcome the fighter aircraft, including the deployment of relevant infrastructure and training its pilots. New Delhi has forged an inter-governmental agreement with France, signed back in September 2016, for acquiring 36 Rafale fighter jet at the cost of Rs 58,000 crore.

Read more: India’s F-21 vs Pakistan’s F-16: A Fair Fight?

The IAF dispatched a number of teams to France, and assist Dassault Aviation, the manufacturers behind the Rafale fighter aircraft, to equip the fighter jet with multiple enhancements and features specific for Indian fighter pilots.

Many of these India-specific enhancements include 10-hour flight data recording, Israeli helmet-mounted displays, low band jammers, infra-red search and tracking systems, radar warning receivers and more.

China-India Border Skirmish

Indian media reported that tensions between the border security forces of India and China escalated into a brief clash along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) of the disputed border diving the two nations.

The military confrontation between the two armies was triggered near the northern bank of Ladakh’s Pangong Lake, the disputed region where Beijing controls two-thirds of the territory. The LAC was regarded as a demarcation line separated Chinese administered territory from Indian-occupied areas, as agreed upon after India’s defeat in the Sino-Indian war of 1962.

Indian media reports revealed that the tensions escalated when personnel of the Indian patrolling forces were confronted by troops from the People’s Liberation Army along the LAC. The confrontation escalated when both sides requested for reinforcements.

The Rafale’s longer range and higher weapons payload are also advantages in its favour. The fighter’s minor stealth modifications do provide a small reduction in its radar cross section

India has also planned to undertake a mammoth military exercise in the region alongside the border with China. Sources cited in Indian media reveal that the Indian Army has claimed to hold delegation-level talks with Beijing to defuse tensions.

An unnamed Indian officer said, “Such incidents often take place due to differing perceptions of where the LAC actually lies. They are usually resolved through border personnel meetings, flag meetings and the like.”

It is important to note that this development comes almost a month ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who are expected to engage in delegation level talks on trade ties and LAC security and stability.

Earlier in February 2019, India’s aggressive posturing and misadventures brought the South Asian region to the brink of war, as two Indian jets penetrated deep inside Pakistan’s airspace, with the agenda of undertaking an attack in Balakot. Aside from damaging a few trees, the IAF fighter pilots failed to do much in the “Balakot strike” and had to rush back after hastily dropping their payload.

Read more: Can Pakistan use F-16 to counter India?

On 27th February, Indian fighter jets penetrated Pakistan’s airspace once again, and the PAF struck back, resulting in a dogfight. PAF Squadron Leader Hassan Siddique shot down Indian MiG-21 Bison fighter jet, and it’s pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was captured by the Pakistan Army, only to be released in a goodwill gesture on 1st March.

Pakistani F-16s vs Indian Rafael jets

Although the French Rafael was introduced almost 30 years after the F-16, both still seem to be a good match for each other. The major difference is that F-16 is a single fighter jet, while the Rafale is dual-engine aircraft.

The Rafale’s engines, the Snecma M88, are considerably less sophisticated or powerful than those on the F-16 – which combined with the Rafale’s greater weight gives it a lower thrust/weight ration to the Fighting Falcon despite its twin-engine configuration. The fighter’s speed is restricted to Mach 1.8, making the Fighting Falcon considerably faster, and combined with their roughly equivalent (both low) operational altitudes of little over 15km it allows the F-16 to impart considerably more energy onto missiles it fires than its French counterpart. The Rafale can carry more of them they lack the range or sophistication of their U.S. manufactured counterparts.

Read more: Pakistan used JF-17 Thunders not F-16s to down Indian jets: DG ISPR

The French fighter’s electronic warfare systems are considerably superior to those of standard F-16 variants (though still lagging when compared to enhanced variants such as the F-16I), which may well be its most considerable advantage. The Rafale’s longer range and higher weapons payload are also advantages in its favour. The fighter’s minor stealth modifications do provide a small reduction in its radar cross-section, though the F-16’s smaller airframe may somewhat compensate for this given the limitations of French stealth technology.

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