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Revolution in India’s Sky: Rafale Jets Replace Sukhoi as Primary Combat Aircraft

India dispatches Rafale jets to France for a multinational drill, signifying a shift in its fighter aircraft fleet. Rafale becomes India’s primary fighter. The France-originated Rafale nuclear platform has emerged as India’s genuine frontline fighter, supplanting the Russia-originated Su-30MKIs. Over the past 15 years, only Sukhoi fighter planes have taken part in India’s bilateral and multilateral war exercises.

This choice indicates a transformation in India’s fighter aircraft arrangement against long-standing adversaries China and Pakistan. Four versatile Rafale jets have been flown to Mont-de-Marsan airbase in France as a component of the Indian Air Force (IAF) delegation to participate in “Exercise Orion 2023.” IAF spokesperson, Wing Commander Ashish Moghe, expressed that this would be the initial overseas exercise for IAF Rafale planes and would enhance the Indian Air Force’s deployment philosophy by gaining knowledge from the best practices of other air forces. NATO Exercise Orion 2023 Orion 2023, a NATO exercise commencing April 17 and lasting until May 5, will concentrate on defensive operations across land, air, sea, and cyberspace.

The IAF has dispatched a team of 165 airmen, officers, and cargo and air refueling planes to support the Rafale jets. The exercise involves around 12,000 troops from NATO nations and is founded on a situation devised by NATO to address the various stages of a contemporary conflict. The primary objective is to train the armed forces within a context of multinational joint forces and coordinate resources and outcomes throughout 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 for nearly $8 billion.

The first Rafales landed at Ambala Airbase in October 2019 and joined an IAF squadron in September 2020. In 2022, Dassault Aviation concluded the delivery of all 36 Rafale fighter aircraft, which have been organized into two IAF squadrons. These squadrons will safeguard the Indian airspace in various regions of the nation. Amid the ongoing military conflict with China in eastern Ladakh since April 2020, India has stationed its Rafale planes to execute patrol missions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), assessing the aircraft’s capabilities in an operational situation for the first time. The significance of Rafale in the IAF Wing Commander Moghe also mentioned that the Rafale is currently India’s frontline fighter, supplanting the Su-30MKI aircraft. The last time Russian-originated 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 utilized the Su-30MKI solely in a support capacity, while the primary strike was executed by the Mirage-2000, manufactured by Dassault Aviation, the Rafale’s sibling.

Among the seven types of fighter planes in the IAF inventory, only the Mirage 2000, Su-30MKI, and Rafale can deliver a nuclear weapon, a crucial aspect of the nuclear triad India possesses to provide credibility to its second strike capability under its 2003 nuclear doctrine. Conclusion India’s choice to send Rafale jets to France for Exercise Orion 2023 signifies a notable shift in its combat aircraft fleet. It showcases the increasing role of the Rafale in the Indian Air Force. Involvement in this exercise will enable India to learn from the best practices of other air forces and enhance its preparedness to confront modern conflicts in the future.

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