France will have delivered a total of 35 Omni-role Rafale fighters by the end-2021 to India with the last fighter making a solo journey to soon to be activated Hashimara air base in north Bengal in January 2022. Already 26 fighters have been delivered with 24 landed in India and the remaining two kept for IAF pilot and technician training in France.
Given the reliability of strategically France, the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Indian Navy have evinced keen interest in the Rafale platform due to its weight to power ratio and maritime strike capabilities. Apparently, the IAF leadership wants to acquire another 36 Rafales in the future and the Navy is looking at Rafale-M as a fighter option onboard INS Vikrant (Indigenous aircraft carrier-1), to be commissioned next year.
The induction of Rafale into western and eastern theatre has force multiplied Indian war-making capabilities as the French fighter is armed with the longest range air-to-air Meteor missile in the sub-continent, Hammer air to ground smart munition, and long-range SCALP air to ground weapon. The Hammer missile, which has been acquired by India under emergency purchases, can be released at a height of mere 500 feet to hit a high altitude target more than 70 km away. The missile hugs the terrain and then climbs to a height of over 4000 meters before striking the target from a top-down action. The Indian Rafales carry specially modified Hammer missiles due to high altitude targets, mountainous terrain, and Chinese recently acquired Russian S-400 air defence systems. In fact, the French have offered to jointly develop Hammer and Meteor missiles with India with an extended range and heavier payload.
While the French Rafale deliveries are slightly ahead of time, all eyes are on the activation of the Hashimara airbase, which will house the second squadron of Rafale fighters with the first squadron being home-based in Ambala. The presence of Rafale in India’s eastern sector will add teeth to its military response in the sector with both Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh being a defence priority.
The positioning of Hashimara is such that it covers the Chumbi Valley, Sikkim, and the sensitive Siliguri corridor. While both Ambala and Hashimara are home bases of Rafale, the fighters with nuclear capability will be flying all over India and its littoral territories.