IAF Tests Rafale Jet With India-Specific Enhancements

The IAF is going full steam ahead with preparations to eventually induct the 36 Rafale fighters, with a top officer himself “testing” the jet with “India-specific enhancements” in France on Thursday, amidst the escalating political battle between the BJP and the Congress over the Rs 59,000-crore-contract inked by the NDA government in September 2016. IAF deputy chief Air Marshal Raghunath Nambiar flew the Rafale, a 17-year-old aircraft that is being used as a “testbed” for the 14 India-specific upgrades the IAF has asked for, in an 80-minute sortie at the Istres air base in France on Thursday.

A veteran fighter pilot, who also served as one of the first “test pilots” in the indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft programme, Air Marshal Nambiar recently said the Rafales would give India “unprecedented” combat capabilities and “revolutionize” airpower in the Indian subcontinent.

A small IAF team, with pilots and technical officers, is already stationed in France to prepare for the induction of the 36 Rafales at the Hasimara (West Bengal) and Ambala (Haryana) airbases between November 2019 and April 2022, as was earlier reported by TOI + . Under the overall Euro 7.8 billion contract inked for the 36 Rafales, which can also deliver nuclear weapons, the cost of the 14 India-specific enhancements is pegged at Euro 1.7 billion (Rs 12,780 crore). These upgrades include radar enhancements, Israeli helmet-mounted displays, low-band jammers, towed decoy systems, and the engine capability for "cold start" from high-altitude regions, among other things.

The IAF is grappling with just 31 fighter squadrons (16-18 jets each) when at least 42 are required to face the “collusive threat” from China and Pakistan. But the Congress has alleged that the “non-transparent” Rafale deal was vastly overpriced, violated defence procurement procedures, included no transfer of technology (ToT), and was intended to benefit the Anil Ambani-promoted Reliance Defence as the “offsets partner” of the French fighter manufacturer Dassault Aviation at the cost of defence PSU Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.

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