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Rafale Supremacy: A New Era for India’s Air Defense as Sukhoi Steps Down

India dispatches Rafale jets to France for a multinational drill, signaling a transformation in its fighter aircraft squadron. Rafale has become India’s principal combat plane. The Rafale, a nuclear platform sourced from France, has emerged as India’s authentic frontline fighter, succeeding the Su-30MKIs acquired from Russia. For the previous decade and a half, only Sukhoi fighter jets have represented India in its bilateral and multilateral war games.

This resolution signifies a shift in India’s fighter jet composition against its historic adversaries, China and Pakistan. Four versatile Rafale aircraft have journeyed to the Mont-de-Marsan airbase in France as constituents of the Indian Air Force (IAF) team to participate in “Exercise Orion 2023”.

IAF spokesperson, Wing Commander Ashish Moghe, announced that this would be the inaugural foreign drill for IAF Rafale planes and would enhance the Indian Air Force’s strategic approach by gaining insights from the top practices of other air forces.

NATO Exercise Orion 2023

Orion 2023, a NATO drill commencing on April 17 and concluding on May 5, will concentrate on defensive strategies across land, air, sea, and the cyber realm. The IAF has dispatched a team of 165 airmen, officials, and cargo and air refueling planes to back the Rafale fighters.

The drill engages roughly 12,000 soldiers from NATO countries and is constructed on a scenario developed by NATO to confront the various phases of a contemporary conflict.

The primary goal is to train the military in a multinational joint forces framework and coordinate resources and impacts across the operations spectrum to combat hybrid strategies.

Rafale in the Indian Air Force

India purchased 36 4.5-generation fighters from France in 2016 for nearly $8 billion. The inaugural Rafales arrived at the 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 jets, which have been organized into two IAF squadrons. These squadrons will safeguard the Indian airspace in diverse regions of the nation.

Amidst the continuing military clash with China in eastern Ladakh since April 2020, India has deployed its Rafale jets to execute patrol missions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), examining the aircraft’s abilities in an operational state for the first time.

The Importance of Rafale in the IAF

Wing Commander Moghe also confirmed that the Rafale is now India’s frontline fighter, replacing the Su-30MKI fighters. The last instance when Russian-sourced Su-30MKIs took part 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 utilized the Su-30MKI merely in a supporting role, while the primary strike was conducted by the Mirage-2000, manufactured by Dassault Aviation, the Rafale’s sibling.

Among the seven types of fighter jets 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 maintains to lend credibility to its second strike capability under its 2003 nuclear doctrine.


India’s resolution to dispatch Rafale fighters to France for Exercise Orion 2023 signifies a notable shift in its combat aircraft fleet. It showcases the escalating role of the Rafale in the Indian Air Force. Participation in this exercise will allow India to glean from the top practices of other air forces and enhance its preparedness to confront modern conflicts in the future.

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