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Rafale Jets Take the Lead: India’s New Frontline Defense Replaces Sukhoi Fighters

India dispatches Rafale combat aircraft to France for an international drill, signifying a shift in its fighter jet squadron. Rafale is now India’s principal combat aircraft. The Rafale, sourced from France and serving as a nuclear platform, has emerged as India’s authentic frontline fighter, supplanting the Russian-provided Su-30MKIs. Over the previous 15 years, only Sukhoi fighter jets have been involved in India’s bilateral and multilateral war maneuvers.

This choice denotes a modification in India’s fighter jet lineup against its primary adversaries, China and Pakistan. Four versatile Rafales have been dispatched to the Mont-de-Marsan airbase in France as part of the Indian Air Force (IAF) detachment to participate in the “Exercise Orion 2023”.

IAF representative, Wing Commander Ashish Moghe, mentioned that this would be the inaugural foreign drill for IAF Rafale aircraft and would enhance the Indian Air Force’s operation principles by acquiring knowledge from the best practices of other air forces.

NATO Exercise Orion 2023

Orion 2023, a NATO exercise commencing on April 17 and running until May 5, will concentrate on defensive operations of terrestrial, aerial, maritime, and cyberspace domains. The FAI has deployed a team of 165 aircrew, officers, and cargo and air refueling aircraft to back up the Rafale fighters.

The drill includes approximately 12,000 soldiers from NATO nations and is predicated on a situation formulated by NATO to tackle the distinct stages of a contemporary conflict.

The primary objective is to prepare the armed forces within a context of multinational joint forces and coordinate resources and effects across the spectrum of operations to confront hybrid strategies.

Rafale in the Indian Air Force

India procured 36 4.5-generation fighters from France in 2016 at an expense of nearly $8 billion. The inaugural Rafales landed at Ambala Airbase in October 2019 and joined an IAF squadron in September 2020.

In 2022, Dassault Aviation finalized the delivery of all 36 Rafale fighter jets, which have been organized into two IAF squadrons. These squadrons will safeguard the Indian airspace in different regions of the country.

Throughout the ongoing military dispute against China in eastern Ladakh since April 2020, India has assigned its Rafale jets to perform patrol assignments along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), testing the aircraft’s capacities in an operational situation for the first instance.

The significance of Rafale in the IAF

Wing Commander Moghe also mentioned that the Rafale is currently India’s frontline fighter, replacing the Su-30MKI fighters. The last occasion Russian-sourced Su-30MKIs participated in a foreign 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 employed the Su-30MKI solely in a support role, while the primary strike was executed by the Mirage-2000 manufactured by Dassault Aviation, the Rafale’s sibling.

Of the seven types of fighter jets in the FAI inventory, only the Mirage 2000, Su-30MKI, and Rafale can deliver a nuclear weapon, a crucial aspect of the nuclear triad India possesses to lend credibility to its second strike capability under its 2003 nuclear doctrine.


India’s decision to dispatch Rafale fighters to France for Exercise Orion 2023 signifies a considerable alteration in its combat aircraft fleet. It displays the expanding role of the Rafale in the Indian Air Force. Involvement in this drill will allow India to learn from the best practices of other air forces and enhance its preparedness to

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