(This was originally posted in Hindustan Times by Shishir Gupta)
With the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) Rafale fighter successfully test-firing the 60km range Hammer air-to-ground modular weapon in March, the air defence posture of both China and Pakistan has changed in the wake of the advent of the multi-role fighter in South Asia, according to people familiar with the matter.
The Hammer weapon secured a bunker-busting vertical hit on its target at the testing location. According to top South Block officials, with the IAF’s first Rafale squadron just one short of completion in Ambala, the Chinese have moved their so-called fifth generation fighter J-20 ahead in the Tibet and Xinjiang airbases. The Pakistanis have also moved their Chinese import JF-17 fighter in key forward bases to tackle the clear and present threat of the Rafale fighter. Although the Chinese say the J-20 is the third operational fifth-generation fighter after the US F-22 and F-35, genuine fifth-generation fighters developed by the Americans do not have a canard that further reduces the cross-section of the plane, the officials said. The Chinese J-20 has the same canard as the Rafale, which the IAF calls a 4.5-generation fighter.
The Chinese and Pakistani air posture has also undergone a change with IAF’s induction of the Rafale as the latter carries the Meteor air-to-air missile, whose range is way beyond any missile the other two forces have in their arsenal. The Hammer and Scalp air-launched cruise missile with a range of over 500km ensures that the adversary will have no early warning as the two weapons can be launched from within Indian territory and beyond visual range.
While India could only send three out of five readied fighters from the Merignac Bordeaux airbase in France on Wednesday due to unforeseen reasons, seven more fighters have been lined up for delivery to IAF next month. Although the seven fighters may come in batches of three and four, six of them will be flown to the Hashimara airbase in West Bengal via Ambala. The re-pavement and extension of the main runway at Hashimara, which sits astride the Siliguri corridor, is expected to be completed by this month-end. The Haishmara upgrade also includes blast pens and surface-to-air missile batteries to protect the vital base.