Much ado about Rafale

IAF Rafale jets get mid-air refueling at 30,000 feet; check pics
[Incoming IAF Rafales refueling mid-journey]

Many combat aircraft — new to the air force — have entered service over the years. But I doubt whether the IAF has experienced any warplane being accorded the kind of hyperbolised welcome the five Rafales (2 two seat trainers, 3 single seaters) are getting. This small Rafale complement is flying in today from Merignac, France, to the IAF’s 1 Air Wing’s home base at Ambala. Trumpeted as a “game changer” — among the more restrained phrases for it being flung around alike by bemedalled Air Marshals, reporters who went up joy-riding on this plane only to return to earth singing its hosannas, and television news show hosts, makes one wonder if this aircraft can fly with the weight of so much exaggeration!

Predictably, the CAS who decided on converting the No. 17 squadron he commanded featuring the old warhorse, MiG-21 bis, to Rafales, Air Chief Marshal (Retd) BS Dhanoa took the lead in going overboard when talking up this aircraft to the Press. ( It appears that the IAF believes it has crossed some kind of threshold: A pre-Rafale IAF was in no position to handle the Chinese threat emanating from the Tibetan Plateau, post-Rafale induction the Chinese won’t be able to deal with the IAF! This is a lot of poppycock, of course.

It has long been known that the PLA Air Force (PLAAF) has a large inventory of mostly dated aircraft, and even the more modern ones in it — the J-10s (derived from the Lavi design and technology bought whole from Israel in the 1980s after the US pressured Tel Aviv to terminate this programme) and the J-20 air superiority fighter — a knock-off of the American J-35 Lightning-II cobbled together from designs and systems technologies purloined by cyber means from Lockheed and other sub-contractors working on that project, will be burdened by the same problem any aircraft taking off in the thin air from the high altitude Tibetan bases would face: Balancing the mix of fuel and the ordnance load, because one is at the expense of the other.

Or, put another way, a combat aircraft ex-Hotan and ex-Lhasa, can either have range or carry many weapons, it cannot do both. IAF planes taking off from the plains just across the Himalayan hump, on the other hand, are not so disadvantaged. Whence the concentration of Chinese short-range and medium-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs and MRBMs) in Tibet and the probability of the Chengdu combat zone command, on initiation of war, deciding to take out Indian air bases hosting IAF attack aircraft, with SRBM/MRBM strikes.

It is a danger Dhanoa did not address for the good reason that IAF has no credible plan for preemptively neutralizing these Chinese missiles. Instead, he hinted at the suppression of Chinese air defences role for the Rafales. Except, this mission can as easily and, perhaps, more effectively be performed by low flying Jaguars with the super-agile Su-30 MKIs providing protective cover.

Referring to the aircraft in Indian and Chinese air force inventories, he dismissed the danger posed by the J-20 saying the Rafale and the Su-30s will be able to counter it, if they can first avoid the surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems which, he claimed, constitutes the main “Chinese Air Threat”. What Dhanoa did not say is that both the IAF and the PLAAF will be operationally hampered by the small numbers of Rafales and J-20s available to the two air forces. However, while IAF will have to make do with just 36 Rafales — there’s too much controversy attending on the Rafale transaction for the government to risk an additional buy, the PLAAF currently boasting some 50-odd J-20s, will keep enlarging its J-20 fleet. It is a force imbalance that cannot be rectified even if the Indian government approves the purchase of another 90 Rafales as Vayu Bhavan desires (to bring the medium multi-role combat aircraft complement to planned strength) because the Chengdu Aerospace Corporation can keep rolling out the J-20s at will at progressively lower unit cost.

He then extolled “the advanced terrain following weapons and level II of Digital Terrain Elevation Data’ system onboard the Rafale, which he says will be particularly effective in the high altitude desert lacking tree cover for near zero-error kills. But it is a platform attribute that is also sported, it turns out, by the Su-30MKI with weapons that can be slaved to its terrain following radar in low altitude flight profile. 

It is not my case that the avionics on the Rafale and the weapons it carries (air-to-ground Scalp missile, air-to-air Meteor missile, and Hammer (Highly Agile and Manoeuvrable Munition Extended Range) for precision A2G targeting are not qualitatively superior to their Russian counterparts that the IAF uses. Rather, that the price differential between the French and the Russian ordnance is so great it is not matched by proportionate performance upgrade and, hence, that it makes no sense for the IAF not to massively augment its Su-30 fleet for the cost of a truckload of Meteors, for example! In exchange ratio terms, therefore, the value of numerous Su-30s made by HAL, Nashik, ensuring that a good part of the procurement cost remains in the country, for invariably far fewer Rafales bought at humungous cost, is really no contest. It does not help Rafale’s case that its all up cost is three times Su-30’s! Further, the Sukhoi by all accounts is the finest fighter-bomber now flying barring the supremely maneuverable MiG-29 (tipping the hat here to retired Air Marshal Harish Masand — the 29’s biggest promoter). And upgraded to the ‘super Sukhoi’ configuration the Su-30 will be well nigh unbeatable.

For all these reasons, the Modi government in the face of the border crisis in eastern Ladakh, has gone in for a speed buy of the more economical Su-30MKIs and MiG-29s!

I am reprising here the sort of arguments I made in my books and other writings for more Su-30s as alternative to the impossibly high-priced and hence fewer Rafales, in the lead up to Modi’s French deal in April 2015. They had found favour with the then defence minister Manohar Parrikar before he was shipped back to Goa.

Dhanoa then got round to the business of slamming Chinese aircraft and technology with the Pakistan Air Force, especially the JF-17 Thunder that flew combat air patrol for the F-16s retaliating for IAF’s Balakot strike, as an inferior product. Except, he did not factor in the more sophisticated Block 3 stealth version of this aircraft that China will soon be transferring to Pakistan and begin filling PAF squadrons. Then Dhanoa threw in a non sequiter. Why, he asked, “does Pakistan use Swedish early air warning platforms up north and keep Chinese AWACS in the south? Why is Pakistan mounting European radar (Selex Gallelio) and Turkish targeting pod” on the JF-17? The answer is quite evident.” The riposte to this would be that Pakistan did as he says for the same reasons that India has equipped its Russian aircraft, starting with the MiG-21, with Israeli avionics and French, British, and Swedish components, systems and sub-systems — to secure a hybrid weapons platform that in its totality promises a bigger bang for the buck!

That Dhanoa has overstated Rafale’s virtues is not a surprise. Service chiefs in retirement are often more voluble and unrestrained in their views than when in service.

Even so, the point made by many IAF officers to the Press that Chinese combat aircraft and related technologies cannot compare with like Western or even Russian items, is not much of a revelation. But when IAF officers begin dissing the Chinese for “reverse engineering Russian equipment” they fail to acknowledge just how far China has gone in becoming near self-sufficient in armaments using these means that they revile when the Indian military has essentially remained third-rate because it is satisfied with surviving, hand-to-mouth, on imported arms.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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34 Responses to Much ado about Rafale

  1. Edelbert Kmenlang Badwar says:

    With all due respect, I feel that Su 30 MKIs will be very vulnerable over Tibet and elsewhere due to their size.Also the Rafale is more advanced in terms of electronic warfare.It is not a case of Sukhois or Rafales.We need more of both.The Sukhoi is a highly agile truck bomb.The Rafale I feel will be very effective at SEAD, for want of a stealth fighter that is.Also in the hands of Indian pilots who are one of the world’s best it would be unbeatable J 20 or not.Let us not forget what Gnats did to the Sabre jets.Still we need aleast 108 more Rafales,72 MKIs and maybe 40 F35/Su 57 until our AMCA is ready.

    • How do you propose to pay for this package?

    • Sankar says:

      How do you conclude that Sukhoi will be more vulnerable than Rafael over Tibet – due to its “size”? That does not make any sense since according to public domain data, Sukhoi can climb much higher and fly much faster than Rafael – search the internet. Further, the electronic system in western military air platforms is an entirely different technology from that of the Russian (ex Soviet) system. The western military system (American, British, French etc) is implemented with “modern” integrated circuits (IC digital) in contrast to the Soviet system which mostly uses age-old valves (triodes etc analog) of the 1930s and 1940s vintage. That does not imply that the Russian system is in any way inferior to the western system. On the contrary in the battlefield when you fly high and in 2+ mach speed, the analog system has proven to be infinitely more robust than the digital system. In fact, the electronic design in the two is based on entirely different principles. So you cannot say that one is superior or inferior to the other. In particular, the digital system requires far more redundancy to work properly than the analog one. As far as SEAD is concerned, one needs to understand electronic warfare technology which is a “classified” domain and unfortunately, no information is available in the open literature. So there is no point in bringing it up for making a judgment.

    • Janjua says:

      The question is not whether su30 or rafale! The question is how will you data link and share targeting information….
      A su30 ,el8222 ew when activated jams its own radar because of lack of trust between russia and israel for sharing source codes…. a su30 cannot datalink with phalcon, in return a rafale cannot data linj with su30 and phalcon….
      I guess iaf needs to put its house in order first

      • Data fusion is a great point. I thought the fact that the different aircraft in our fleet cannot share critical info on mission was a classified secret!

      • Sankar says:

        I do not think it is a valid question to ask since to my information Russian communication system is not digital – so source code exchange does not make any sense. The linking of su30 with Rafael on any information sharing could be achieved, for the sake of argument, in the sky via some system installed on AWACS (surveillance platform beyond the battle zone) or via (ground) command and control center – there is no need for a direct link. If I understand you correctly, how can el8222ew when mounted on su30 jam su30’s radar? A jammer sends it radiation in the direction of the receiving (incoming) signal. And the radar of su30 will be transmitting (outgoing) in the direction of external targets in the environment. So there is no way these two signals could interfere! Anyway, I am sure DRDO people would have worked out if there were any incompatibility of the two radars for the IAF in operation – if there were any cross-talk in the circuitries that could be resolved by separating the two by some gap while installing.
        If my guess is correct, you are thinking of “continuous” radiation and reception which could lead to interference. But that is absurd to assume since the radars in question are different pulsed radars. In fact, the same antenna could be used for transmitting and receiving in pulsed mode by using the duplexer – a device first invented in 1940s which was a great breakthrough in radar technology.

      • Janjua says:

        Russians were the pioneers in datalink and please dont downplay the russian tech… if you use russian tech as it is suppose to be then nothing can match it…
        Coming to bars radar and el8222…. ew el8222 pod jams all signals and leaves out only those which have been prefed in its database… the issue with israel and russia is that no one wants to give access codes/source codes to eachother hence this issue arises….
        For el8222 when activated the closest radar source to be jammed with be ac own radar….
        Iaf made the most beautiful aircraft like a su30 into a nightmare…. the world is moving towards software intensive architecture not not hardware …
        These are the reasons i like sir bharat as he is always objective …..

      • Sankar says:

        You need to understand first what “jamming” means in the context of radar technology before you make your point on data link. In simple terms, a jammer is a radar signal transmitter that radiates certain signals to confuse a radar receiver which collects signals incident on it from the environment. The receiver and transmitter are entirely different devices. Both use antenna – for the transmitter it radiates electromagnetic energy (signal) from the in-built power supply and circuits, and for the receiver it it captures signals (electromagnetic energy) impinging on it in the environment and passes on the signals to the circuits in the receiver for processing, i.e. to determine whether the received signal is from a friend or an enemy. It makes no scientific sense to say jamming a radar transmitter that you are implying ” … ew when activated jams its own radar because…”.

  2. Rs says:

    Dr. Karnad,
    Nothing but hyperbole from a tactical Air Force training and arming to win isolated tactical fights rather than achieve strategic objectives. This Air Force has no strategic value or assets or plans to speak of. Say nothing of multi domain battle ops. When push comes to shove, they’ll go back to saying the target set assigned to us is not the one we trained or equipped for ( a la Kargil). I don’t see this infancy of thought changing any time soon, do you?

    • Edelbert Kmenlang Badwar says:

      You are right.Sadly we have an Air Force that does plan beyond dogfighting.There is no vision for strategic reach in the form of long range heavy bombers,a large air refuelling fleet,early warning aircraft and more importantly, overseas bases.The IAF thinking is still 1950s air defence role and nothing else.

  3. Tony says:

    Sadly these pot belly scotch drinking generals wannabe governors after retirement can be given all the shiny toys but they dont have will to use them and han knows it very well. Go to any casinos and you will know Han essentially is a gambler whereas indian society discourages risk taking and sadly our political militiary policy makers are products of this flawed devolution of Hindu Martial ethos.

  4. ranjith says:

    I lost my respect for SU30 when they ran away in the face of incoming AMRAAMS. It was so disappointing. After all these years of hyping SU30, all it took for them to run was a few incoming AMRAAMS. Why would the PAF not use the same strategy of firing long-range A2A every time they come across SU30? What is the point of having so many of those aircraft without superior missiles and AESA radars? MBDA has rejected our request to integrate Meteor with Russian aircraft. At the moment the PAF F16 can see us first and outgun us. And 36 Rafales are too few to change the balance. Our only hope lies in somehow convincing the MBDA to sell us Meteors for LCA and SU30.

    • RG says:

      They ran away cos Pak EMW is much better.They were jammed.

      The crux is not money, of which we have less btw but should be enough.

      That dog fighting nonsense is mass fed now, thanks to our berserk media.

      Indian military trains how to fight, they are not taught the whys of war, something US teaches, something PLA doubles down on.

      Pak has narrowed the tech edge with India, thanks to spendly wisely and its relationship with china.

      China far supersedes us in tech edge over India.

      Pak n India think alike, almost.

      Indians need to up their game fundamentally. Teach our military the whys of war ,invest smartly to narrow the tech differential with China, just as China has done with US in mind as far as East Asia is concerned.

      Spend wisely, make at home.Do it fast.

    • Sadaat says:

      The reason for disengagement was ew el8222 pod…. su30 must have delayed the activation of the pod…
      Because it also jams its own radar as israelis and russians dont want to share source codes….
      Till the time a su got a firing solution for r77, my guess is amraams where already off the rails…..

  5. V.Ganesh says:

    The French Dassault Rafale is a waste of money and here’s why – the IAF and the GOI dilly-dallied on buying more French Mirage 2000s when they were offered and hence the MMRCA and from there the French Dassault Rafale.

    If this wasn’t enough, Congressman and former Finance Minister in the UPA government is now claiming credit for the UPA saying it was their Congress-led UPA government which selected the French Dassault Rafale. This is the nail in the coffin for the French Dassault Rafale and obviously the BJP-led NDA government won’t buy any more French Dassault Rafales.

    India should stop buying Russian fighter jets because even if they’re less expensive compared to their expensive American fighter jets, they don’t have the long life that the American fighter jets have. Also, with the Pakistan Air Force JF-17 Thunder having a Russian engine, India shouldn’t buy anymore Russian fighter jets. The Russians have started acting pricey post the disintegration of the USSR and ask for far more money for their military hardware than it deserves and India has had some harrowing experience with Soviet/Russian military hardware with the Admiral Gorshkov aka INS Vikramaditya and its MiG-29Ks and the thankfully junked FGFA. India has had enough of being used by Russia as a piggyback for its cash-strapped status. India shouldn’t anymore spend money so that Russia can use it for military hardware development and then have it sold to us at undeserving prices.

    India should buy the Boeing F-15EX Advanced Eagle [which is also being bought by the USAF], Boeing F/A-18E/F SuperHornet for the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy, the Lockheed Martin F-21 [irrespective of its critics, it’s more combat experience than the French Dassault Rafale which has seen action only in Afghanistan, Mali, Libya, Iraq and Syria which is nothing compared to the F-21 aka F-16 Block 70 with far more combat experience. Also, the French Dassault Rafale is used only by the French, Egyptian and Qatari air forces in comparison to the F-16] and then buy the F-35 Lightning. All those criticising the Lockheed Martin F-21 as junk and the Boeing F/A-18E/F SuperHornet [and being bought only by poor so-called third world nations] as just a US Navy fighter jet should remember that the nations which are still buying and upgrading and using their Lockheed Martin F-16s and Boeing F/A-18E/F SuperHornets aren’t fools.

  6. Bhaskar says:

    Hello Mr Karnad,
    A good insight! Could you throw some light as to how many Su 30, Mig 29 could we have for 1 Rafale? Is it 3:1?
    Is it your point then that India won’t buy any more Rafales atleast not in the current order items so as to avoid the cost?
    On a broader note when China can potentially use missiles in high numbers is there any option to counter that threat to thwart it from damaging our air bases? Or will the war be over for India?

  7. V.Ganesh says:

    The Russian Sukhoi Su-30MKI used by the IAF is good against the PLAAF’s Russian Sukhoi Su-30MKK, but, not that good and it’s evident from the fact that it was the IAF’s French Mirage 2000s which were sent to bomb Balakot in Pakistan and not the IAF’s Russian Sukhoi Su-30MKIs. New orders for Sukhoi Su-30MKI and MiG-29 MiG-29 placed by India with Russia are just vote bank politics so that they can be manufactured by their Indian licensees and are just stopgap measures with hardly any long-term benefits to India.

  8. V.Ganesh says:

    Rafale is a waste of the Indian taxpayers money.

  9. vivek says:

    i don’t understand why Indian govt pulled out of Su 57 program with Russia? It would help us to gain lot of technical know how in terms of fifth gen fighter..

  10. Kunal Singh says:

    Some say there is shielding of every single electronic component of the plane from the several million kilojoules of electromagnetic pulse and energy that nuclear blasts release. The problem comes in acknowledging this role publicly. On the French side, any acknowledgement of this role would place it in direct violation of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, (Article 1) and would run into trouble with the French national legislation in this regard.

  11. Rajinder Verma says:

    Hand to mouth on Imported weaponry … Well that’s a Fact !!! Indian cannot fight a longish skirmish let alone a Longish Battle !!! We will run out of ammunition far far earlier than we will loose the Will to Fight !!!!

  12. Brig Pradeep Sharma says:

    The story of India’s defence remains unchanged. No self reliance, absence of a long term vision, gaps in understanding threat perception and a clueless Political class who are hell bent in twisting the narrative for votes while neglecting National Interest.
    We may write as much as we want but the NSA/CDS/ Saffronised Generals remain unable to take on the Government and place Nation first.This it appears to me is a job best left to the junior leadership alone!
    Perhaps we require the Iron shield for our air bases?

  13. Sankar says:

    This is an extremely well done evaluation of Rafael vis-a-vis Sukhoi. And I fully agree with the main thrust of the article. I may add one or two comments from my comprehension of state of the art technology involved. First, “reverse engineering” is a bogus concept in the technology world, otherwise the patent office would not have existed. In order to “reverse” engineer a device (or any system – hardware or software), he who wants to “reverse engineer” something must possess the same high standard of expertise as the one who originally invented it. In that case, why reverse engineer? You simply come up with your own design and input to manufacture a device to deliver the same performance. Secondly, it will be up to the IAF’s flying officers to decide which aircraft they would like to fly to combat the enemy and come over the top. That goes without saying, but there is the financial constraint, whether you can afford it. In the mountainous terrain of the Himalayas, I guess each will have its own strength and weakness – Rafael or Sukhoi. This you can find only when you deploy both and have fought with the enemy there. Stealth, AESA etc are just jargon in the military world, and these are used to hoodwink the public for achieving a sale. The Soviets have been the master in phased-array technology and AESA is just one step forward from it. To believe that the implementation of AESA in Sukhoi is somewhat inferior to that in Rafael is unimaginable.

  14. Sankar says:

    Further to my post one clarification is warranted on what I have noted on “reverse engineering”. In the military domain reverse engineering is surely undertaken on weapon components for the following purpose. If one succeeds in unravelling the device, one gets a hand on how it is functioning as well as its weakness. That could lead to a clue to how to neutralize its operation by designing its opposing device. This is the technology of countermeasure and is being pursued vigorously by all military powers. Also, in the battlefield, the adversary would want to decipher and disrupt in real time the messages exchanged between the field commanders and their central command station which are coded. This is reverse engineering in communications technology and is mostly part of software engineering – not hardware. “Code-breaking” is a highly sophisticated game for the military.

  15. Sapan says:

    Mr Karnad, most of the text that you have written is your own understanding of the military aviation and I’m afraid, 85% incorrect factually. I do not see you being part of any operational air force not even IAF in the past as well though you definitely do dig out fine data and arguments from the materials you can lay your hands on.

    I have to perforce dedicate some time to write a rebuttal at the cost of my little available time just so that the huge subscriber-ship that you have managed doesn’t get fooled (especially the technically sound/ PS4 / PS5 / X Box variety high end gaming (chair) warriors who are experts individually in their own fields without any doubt but for sure do not have any idea of how employment of all these technology is meshed/ fused with the human in cockpit.

    Hyperbolised “Five Rafales”
    I think IAF has been exceptionally professional in pilot training, meeting timelines ferrying back, and receiving the Rafale aircraft as planned.
    The hype is mostly by the immature media (have a look at this link and certain section of retired officers.

    While the word “game changer” may appear like a trumpeting phrase; it does have an embedded meaning and for that you first need to understand what’s the current game and what role this aircraft will play to change – it will allow the IAF to regain the technological asymmetry which had got diluted marginally owing to the support that Pak got from American, Chinese and Turkey in terms of equipment/ weapons and the rapid development of Weapons in China. It will allow the IAF to maintain and sustain a deterrence/ dissuasive posture against China which in itself will be more than adequate to tackle Pak.

    17 Squadron – just to correct you. It was equipped with MiG 21M in 1975 and not MiG 21 Bis (fact check please)

    With acquisition of the Rafale; the IAF has indeed crossed a technology threshold. The force is at the anvil of operating in a Network Enabled Environment Operational Data Links, SDR etc and Rafale will be a major contributor along with others. This acquisition should have happened a decade ago but probably because of the role played by persons like you, it got mysteriously hindered. Effectively you are doing nothing but compromising national security.

    Multiple number of Test pilots of the IAF evaluated the contenders meticulously to the last detail. Process could not have been more elaborate. You should research on the capability of the IAF test pilots before shooting copy paste stuff. All the aircraft were painstakingly evaluated in terms of full envelope aircraft performance, weapons, air to air, air to ground, multi sensor fusion (including EW, ECM, self protection suite, Radar, IFF, RWR, MAWS) Data linking with C2 networks, cooperative engagement capability etc. The Rafale emerged (open source data,and%20the%20man%2Dmachine%20interface}. In addition, India Specific Enhancements were asked for and have been fulfilled.

    There is no clear distinction between the situation pre-Rafale IAF and post Rafale. What hype you are quoting is all media hype. IAF has been quite mature and understands the process how the capability will fan in out in the near future.

    The process of asset built up will be gradual (with a judicious mix of varied aircraft) with the aim to achieve the desired dissuasive/ deterrent posture against China. In view of the available budget, its clearly visible that IAF has judiciously made a conscious decision to have a balance between the High Tech: Medium Tech and Low Tech Aircraft and also maintain the optimum ratio between Indigenous and Imported so as not to compromise on the efficacy.

    Mr Karnad, you are clearly taking advantage of the fact that serving officers cannot write a rebuttal on social media platforms. And the unfortunate part is that your readers are getting one sided view from you. Most of your statements are factually incorrect.

    Of course China has the numbers more than the IAF. But, how many can they credibly bring to bear against us in the Western Theatre Command Region (and not Chengdu Combat Zone Command) considering the other fronts China also needs to tackle as well. Like I said; maybe the aim here is not to compete in numbers but to have a credible deterrent (dissuasive) capability. Rafale was also bought so that it can offset the inadequate numbers with the edge in tech that it offers. For Example the Erstwhile SAM systems could take on one target at a time while the modern ones can track 64 or more and engage 16 or more in seconds.

    China has a strong Military Industrial eco System Supported by strong economy; a dedicated effort to get access to evolving tech (does that effort needs elaboration) and a strong government willing to go all the extra mile by hook or crook. We need to reach there too but that’s the country’s effort and IAF appears to be standing in full support. If the niche technology cannot be made in our country at this stage, one cannot compromise and buy relative low-tech stuff.

    In the interim, will you like to dilute the technological edge if the desired quality and tech is not coming in time. You should be aware that there is lot of equipment which is not imported anymore. You should write solutions to enhance the eco-system.

    How many bases do the Chinese have against the IAF? What’s the current accuracy of their SSMs/SRBM/MRBMs (CEP) and how many do they have currently. Acquisition of Rafale and Chinese SSMs are independent domains and you are trying to mix the two to deviate.

    How do you know IAF doesn’t have a credible plan for SSMs. You are assuming again. Please refer to this article again to get a jist ( The plan has been there for may be over a decade on how to deal with the SSMs.

    And whether to go pre-emptive or responsive will be a decision resting with the govt which you have conveniently ignored. But you surely would be aware that enough bunker busters have been procured to answer your questions you posed.

    If the Chinese have a better Military Industrial Complex, you should be giving solutions towards enhancing the capability of the country. IAF appears to be in full support for indigenisation. However till the time our scientists are able to make niche technologies, certain imports will have to continue to maintain and sustain the technological edge.

    Example – can the country build a missile equivalent to Meteor/AMRAAM in a time blind manner. When it does, IAF will stop imports. Till then it has to import and also buy the indigenous in a balancing way. What is your objection In this method, please elaborate?

    Please explain your affinity towards the SU30 and why you have silently ignored certain features of the Rafale which gives it an edge over the SU30 in many domains. There is no denying that SU30 is currently the mainstay and is capable but the idea is to fill the gaps and deficiencies. The idea is to have a decent mix of High Tech, Medium Tech and Low-Tech aircraft. Well thought out mix of Imports and indigenous.

    DEAD is the most important campaign. Your inference on the type of aircraft (low flying Jaguar + Su30 as protection) which can perform these missions and how these missions are conducted is completely misplaced sir. No aircraft will be sent in area where Terminal Defences are active and you foresee the Jaguar & SU30 going, really ?? Without neutralising the threat? Jaguar in any case would have certain load carrying limitations in High Altitude operations.

    No doubt, the SU30 is a potent platform. But Super agility and BVR are different games. When the word ‘Game changer’ is used, lets credit the fact that IAF would know what the game is and the best optimum platform to use in the game. No denying that the SU30+ Rafale combination will be super potent at this juncture till the time new technological revolution takes place.

    The platforms which were primarily used during Kargil and Balakot will give you an indication which is more reliable.

    J-20 – Rafale and the Su-30s will be able to counter it. DEAD is important and leave the tactics to the professionals if we can consider them to be slightly better equipped than us to take this decision.

    36 Rafales is purely because of budgetary constraints and are enough for a deterrent posture irrespective of the numbers of J20 which is limited as of now.

    In addition to force imbalance, IAF needs to maintain and sustain technology imbalance.

    Read up more on the advanced terrain following radar and weapon and level II Digital Terrain Elevation Data’ (DTED) system onboard the Rafale and why that is necessary. Why did the Paki LS6 (Chinese) & H2 H4 weapons miss their targets on the 27 Feb by as much as 500 m, which in any case were dropped from as far as 45 Km from across the LoC ??? You clearly need to hone your knowledge on targeting aspects, elevation errors, targeted mensuration etc. And about the radar on Su-30MKI and the weapons which can be enslaved. Su 30 doesn’t have a terrain following radar! It’s radar has a terrain mapping function which is nowhere in fidelity as compared to that of the Rafale or even the Israeli ELTA EL/M – 2032 Radar on the LCA! Hence, not capable of terrain following flights!

    In certain aspects, there is clear edge for the Rafale in terms of weapons – air to air and air to ground. SU30 is good in certain aspects while lagging in others. These gaps will be mitigated by the presence of the Rafale.

    Cost wise
    Su-30s made by HAL, Nashik, 450 Cr
    Tejas 470 Cr
    Rafale 630 Cr (not three times)
    Price difference is justified considering the technological jump

    The current SU30 purchase which you saw in the media was done to make good for the aircraft losses due to accidents and the MiG 29s were procured since they were lying unused in Russia and available a low cost (maybe these buys are not related to the current stand off – incidental but timely decision could be a possibility) and it appears that MiG 35 was evaluated in the evaluation by the IAF TEST pilots and eliminated as it lagged substantially.

    You contradicted your own statement – of course The Pakis favour the western avionics and weapons and targeting pod and buy them with whatever money they have. Chinese tech appears good on media but is clearly lacking in quality and performance. Pakis do give preference to the Swedish AEW&C because the ZDK is no good and not compatible with F16 also. They plan to mount the European radar (Selex Gallelio) and Turkish Aselson targeting pod” on the JF-17. They use the western Martin Baker Ejection Seats. This is indicative that the Chinese Systems/ Electronics are not reliable/not good enough and not a preferred choice when needed. Pakis know this. If JF 17 was good, China would have operated it themselves too. Rafale is superior to the J20 and they know it.

    Your statement on Balakot – The JF-17 Thunder flew the combat air patrol for the F-16s retaliating for IAF’s Balakot strike, as an inferior product. It’s the other way round – F16s did the CAP and OS while the JF17s released the ordnance from 45 Km across the LoC as has been the most likely event.
    There is no evidence of JF17 with SD10 near the LoC for a BVR combat while Asif Ghafoor made an attempt to advertise the same. And a stealthy version of the JF 17 Block 3 is a joke. Stealth aircraft are designed bottom up (F 22/ F 35 & Su 57) – you can’t have a Stealthy Su 30 or JF 17 by upgrading certain avionics.

    • @sapan, you may be an IAF officer or someone reflecting the sentiments of a section of the Service. Your comment with its ill-tempered tone and replete with abuse and aspersions, is the sort of stuff I have no patience for and would normally send to the bin. But considered criticism I welcome because I value public debate and discussion. So I am responding to your text but one that I have taken the liberty to clean up.

      It is a special conceit of the military that (1) only those who serve in it are competent to comment on affairs related to it, and (2) the dire straits of the national economy be damned when it comes to meeting the armed services’ requirements for the latest, priciest military hardware. To the first point let me say that those standing inside a tub cannot lift it; a critical outside eye is better able to judge the economic, political and military tradeoffs than those inside the military with a compartmentalised perspective. As regards the 2nd point, NO the military of a very poor country CANNOT have whatever it desires whenever it wants it, but ONLY what the country can reasonably afford and then, ideally, only if it cannot be somehow produced and procured indigenously, which last is anathema to an Indian military habituated to imported armaments.

      My post was in the main a reaction to former CAS, ACM Dhanoa’s statements and the Hindustan Times report carrying it is what you seemed to have not really read. So I’ll not waste my time dealing with any of your puerile statements except to urge you to re-read that HT account.

      I am factually wrong about nothing. The only thing I erred on was the designation of the aircraft being phased out in 17 Sqdn — it is MiG-21M (Type 96), as you said, not the bison or bis variant.

      Regarding the more substantive issues:

      1) Your contention that Rafale will correct the technological asymmetry vis a vis the PAF only highlights IAF’s and, generally the military’s, Pakistan threat fixation — the single factor that has most diminished India and its armed services. The China threat, in the process, has remained unaddressed to the detriment of the national interest. This has been a running theme of mine for the last 40 or more years!

      2) How Rafale was selected, etc. was no part of my post; it is a strawman you have created to mow it down. But your view that IAF has structured its fleet with a hodge-podge of aircraft is correct, but that such a mix is “judicious” is hard to swallow, considering all these aircraft are short-legged and good mainly for tactical and theatre ops, and because the sheer diversity of aircraft has created a logistics nightmare in peacetime, and in war, is an absolute liability. All these and other arguments backed by substantive analysis are found in my books, particularly ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’ – 2015 and Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition (2018) — if you and your ilk in the service and outside of it, care to read them.

      3) You challenged my view that Su-30s alone or in combination with the Jags can take out targets, including SAM and air defence sites on the Depsang Plains in eastern Ladakh. You are dead wrong. Su-30 has a radar that in air to ground mode can spot a target 40 kms to approach, and the underslung Brahmos can wipe out any structure the PLA has constructed, even the MiG-21bis with similar radar can do this at 25-30kms for God’s sake! In a joint sortie with the Sukhois pulling escort, Jaguars taking off from Ambala, say, can climb before descending to 14,000 feet for the strike run to target on the Depsang but it will be hampered in the scoot phase because it cannot maneuver out of trouble in the thin air. The Sukhois will have no such problems.

      4) The less one talks about BVR the better — Rafale’s radar cone for the Meteor kill works better on paper than in real life. But if you are a pilot, you ought to be more skeptical of brochure claims on performance of anything, let alone a BVR A2A weapon and one, moreover, that will take a huge bite out of the recurring expense stream.

      5) That 36 Rafales — in practice a squadron plus — will deter or even dissuade China is a pipe dream and a thesis best not tested in the real world.

      6) IAF’s conceit (mentioned in the lead) apart — the prices you mention — HAL-made Su-30s @ Rs 450 Cr, Tejas @ Rs 470 cr, & Rafale @ Rs 630 cr– are nonsensical, unless you have inflated the figures to make your point. DefMin Manohar Parrikar publicly stated the prices for HAL-built Su-30s to be US$ 75 apiece, Rafale around US$ 230, and of Tejas around US$ 60 or so — all without weapons.

      7) Another strawman — whoever said anything about Chinese tech? The fact, however, is the Chengdu Aeropspace Corp has developed and is test flying the Block 3 stealth version of the JF-17 for onpassing to PAF — and this is a ‘joke’ to you? — and involves more than fiddling around with avionics. (And where, pray, did I say that an aircraft can be made stealthy by upgrading avionics?!!!) What I said is that if the Pakis have integrated components from diverse sources on their platforms so has India.

      8) Boy, you are complacent! How much time do you reckon it will take PLAAF to switch its fighting assets from all over to obtain a dominant air presence Vs IAF in the Lanzhou ‘combat zone’ command in the west? The answer: less than 2 days!

      9) Re: IAF’s Balakot strike — It was Dhanoa who said JF-17 were in the strike role — read the HT report.

      10) You go on and on about my needing to articulate an eco-system for indigenous production of arms. You are obviously entirely unaware — because you haven’t read any of my numerous books nor followed my other writings over time — that I have been leading the charge on stopping arms imports cold, integrating the private sector and DPSU/DRDO tech, industrial and manpower resources to create two competing defence-industrial combines led by L&T and Tata to achieve economies of scale and to make India an arms exporter. I have also, among other things, campaigned for DRDO to transfer Tejas source codes to private sector companies to mass produce variants of the LCA for IAF use and for export, and generate revenues as profit and to fund AMCA, etc. It is a model I proposed in a paper when I was member of the first National Security Advisory Board, NSC, Govt of India during Vajpayee’s time. Read the 2 books I earlier mentioned.

      By the way, I have personally known some of the best fliers in IAF — two of them classmates — and have gained much from their insights and continue to do so. (I have nowhere claimed any connection to flying anything other than as a passenger on commercial flights).

      And, finally, do maintain an even temper and an open mind. It may serve you better in the long run.

      • Sankar says:

        Professor Karnad,
        Leave this guy Sapan aside. He may be a good trained fighter pilot of IAF, but that where his expertise ends. There is more to evaluate a military aircraft – reading his post to my understanding, he has no scientific expertise for this. He does not understand the operation in mountainous terrain. Let me point to one fundamental technical issue he has missed in his post – there will be huge complexity in radar receivers in the Himalayas to sort out pulses due to multi-path reflections from the surrounding peaks in that environment. Who knows whether the Sukhoi will excel over Rafael or vice versa in this regard so far the inbuilt instrumentation is concerned. IAF has, at least in public domain knowledge, never undertaken a study for this. In fact, it could take several years to collate such data and analyze it. His entire post is full of technical jargon data link, network-centric … .. just to rebut. One cannot conclude any battle field performance from such jargon. I will try to make a brief response to him now to back you up.

    • andy says:

      @sapan: Boy what a tirade,good job the author deleted some ‘colourful language’ since a lot of respectable folks visit his blog.

      The most fundamental point missed by your good self is that the MMRCA saga was loaded in favour of a French fighter jet from day one. The IAF had its heart set on getting the M2k given its sterling performance in the Kargil war, but the govt of the day delayed a decision due to previous scandals in military procurement and the French shut down the production line which was to be transferred to India if the sale went through. The open tender floated had the Rafale as the French contender.

      That GOI bungled big time in not grabbing the M2k offer is very clear in hindsight . But the IAF had to have the French bird ,so the whole process was stacked in its favour. Just one example should suffice, the American F16 was rejected outright since it failed the cold start phase in Ladakh,but the Rafale was given a pass ,even though it didn’t have an operational AESA radar all through the testing phase,which was a critical tender requirement . So when you say that “process could not have been more elaborate” you have a point, but alas the whole process was stacked in favour of the Rafale to the detriment of other contenders.

      Just to correct the author the price which he quotes in INR for the Rafale,SU30 and Tejas is actually to be quoted in US dollars. So the price for the above 3 is $230 million, $75 million and $60 million respectively. From this it’s clear that we could build 3 SU30 in India,with the attendant benefits to the national economic,for the price of 1 Rafale built in France,much to the glee of the French workers.

      This then begs the question, is the Rafale so far advanced technologically that it can take on 3 SU30s on it’s own? Not even the most ardent supporter of the Rafale would wager even INR 1 on the Rafale coming out unscathed in 1:3 fight against the Su30.

      It would be better if the pandora’s box of the whole sordid saga of Rafale procurement remains shut. The points against the Rafale far outweigh the favourable ones.

    • Sankar says:

      @sapan: I am amazed at your claims. Everything you write exposes your ignorance about military technology. For example, you have no clue about radar systems in-built in Rafael or Sukhoi, since you are not addressing even the most elementary component, the receiver, in the two platforms. For your info, the receiver plays the crucial role in air warfare. Even going by data in the public domain, the Sukhoi can achieve Mach 2+, whereas the Rafael maximum 1.5 Mach. Also, the Sukhoi’s climbing ceiling is 20% higher than that of Rafael. So even both with full load technically, the Sukhoi can outfly and out manoeuver the Rafael. Can you please explain what is precisely “that technology” when you write “With acquisition of the Rafale; the IAF has indeed crossed a technology threshold”?
      Further “Network Enabled Environment Operational Data Links, SDR etc and Rafale will be a major contributor..” – this is just jargon, it does not depend on the Rafael, the same system can be “integrated” on F-16, MiGs, Sukhois … – these are external to the air platforms. In fact, referring to Balakot strike, it has been reported that an IAF helicopter was shot down by a IAF’s own missile in Kashmir resulting in seven officers’ death – in other words, it was a self-goal. This exposes that the command and control system (network-centric or not) is dysfunctional in IAF’s expertise.
      Also, that the IAF Mig was sot down over Pak territory implies that IAF is deficient in operating countermeasures (ECM). I am willing to accept that the IAF pilots are excellent in their role in flying, but this will be like bus drivers to give an analogy. They are not in a position to evaluate whether the bus caries the latest technology for the purpose. There is no point to go point by point of the rest of your post – it speaks for itself.

  16. amannationalist says:

    Can u pls elaborate which is more important in a 21st century dogfight especially with a technologically superior PLAAF- kinetics or avionics?

    • I wrote back in 1986 that manned aircraft were on a downward curve and unmanned drones were the future that India should commit to developing this type of weapons platforms for a variety of missions. So that’ll be the kinetic arm married to advanced avionics.

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