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From Sukhoi to Rafale: The Transformation of India’s Frontline Air Defense

India dispatches Rafale combat jets to France for a multinational drill, symbolizing a transformation in its fighter jet squadron. Rafale ascends to become India’s principal fighter. The Rafale nuclear platform, sourced from France, has emerged as India’s genuine frontline warrior, supplanting the Russian-derived Su-30MKIs. Over the previous 15 years, only Sukhoi fighter planes have engaged in India’s bilateral and multilateral war simulations.

This choice signifies a shift in India’s fighter jet arrangement against its traditional adversaries, China and Pakistan. Four versatile Rafale have journeyed to Mont-de-Marsan airbase in France, incorporated into the Indian Air Force (IAF) contingent for participation in “Exercise Orion 2023”.

IAF spokesperson, Wing Commander Ashish Moghe, conveyed that this would be the inaugural overseas drill for IAF Rafale jets and would enhance the Indian Air Force’s operational approach by absorbing best practices from other airborne forces.

NATO Exercise Orion 2023

Orion 2023, a NATO drill commencing on April 17 and extending through May 5, will concentrate on defensive maneuvers of land, air, sea, and cyberspace. The IAF has delegated a group of 165 aircrew, officials, and cargo and air refueling planes to back the Rafale combatants.

The exercise involves approximately 12,000 soldiers from NATO countries and is premised on a scenario devised by NATO to tackle the different stages of a contemporary conflict. The primary objective is to educate the armed forces in a setting 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 commissioned 36 4.5-generation fighters from France in 2016 for nearly $8 billion. The premier Rafales touched down at Ambala Airbase in October 2019 and were inducted into 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.

During the ongoing military standoff against China in eastern Ladakh since April 2020, India has deployed its Rafale jets to execute patrol duties along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), testing the aircraft’s proficiencies in an operational situation for the first time.

The importance of Rafale in the IAF

Wing Commander Moghe also articulated that the Rafale is now India’s frontline fighter, succeeding the Su-30MKI fighters. The most recent instance of Russian-derived Su-30MKIs participating in an overseas air drill was in January 2023 at “Veer Guardian 2023” with the Japan Air Self-Defense Force.

In 2019, during the airstrikes on Balakot, India had deployed the Su-30MKI solely in a supportive role, while the main attack was executed by the Mirage-2000, produced by Dassault Aviation, the Rafale’s counterpart.

Among the seven categories of fighter jets in the IAF inventory, only the Mirage 2000, Su-30MKI, and Rafale can discharge a nuclear weapon, a crucial component of the nuclear triad India holds to bolster the credibility of its second strike capability under its 2003 nuclear doctrine.


India’s resolution to dispatch Rafale fighters to France for Exercise Orion 2023 signifies a considerable shift in its combat aircraft squadron. It exemplifies the expanding role of the Rafale in the Indian Air Force. Participation in this exercise will enable India to glean from the best practices of other air forces and enhance its preparedness to confront modern conflicts in

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