India’s Aging Air Force Fleet to Be Boosted as it Buys 36 Rafale Jets

In a long-delayed deal that will equip India’s air force with advanced fighter jets Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has finalized an order to buy dozens of warplanes from France.

A contract to purchase 36 Rafale jets from Paris-based Dassault Aviation SA was signed between the Indian and French defense ministers on Friday in New Delhi. India’s long search for a new multi-role combat aircraft and years of drawn-out negotiations were concluded by the ceremony. An Indian defense ministry official told reporters in New Delhi, asking not to be identified citing rules, the deal is worth 7.8 billion euros ($8.7 billion).

Buying everything from submarines to artillery, the Rafale deal comes as Modi attempts a $150 billion military modernization drive. An attack on an army camp in Kashmir on Sunday that Indian officials have said originated in Pakistan highlighted the pressure to upgrade the nation’s forces.

New Delhi’s ability to counter potential threats from Beijing and Islamabad is threatened by the Indian Air Force’s rapidly-aging Soviet-era fleet. India still needs to purchase additional aircraft to keep up with regional rivals.

“IAF needed a potent aircraft with deep strike capability and a modern one that can fly at high altitudes carrying potent weapons,” Minister of Defence Manohar Parrikar told reporters.

Another official told reporters in New Delhi that through clauses that require components to be built domestically, the deal will lead to a 3 billion euros investment in India.

All aircraft will be delivered within six years and Dassault will begin delivering the planes in three years. The contract also includes training for nine IAF personnel, including three pilots. Advanced weapons systems such as Scalp air-to-ground missiles and Meteor air-to-air missiles would adorn the aircraft.

According to the official, the deal doesn’t include an option to buy more Rafale jets beyond the 36 aircraft.

“The Rafale is a fabulous aircraft, but a 36 airplane buy does not fix the IAF’s force structure problems,”said Ashley Tellis, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Manmohan Bahadur, a retired Air Vice Marshal in the Indian Air Force and distinguished fellow at New Delhi’s Centre for Air Power Studies said that India’s air force will be granted an edge over China’s air force and Pakistan’s fleet of F-16s with the advanced radar and weapons systems available in the new multi-role fighter jets that are also capable of carrying nuclear weapons.

“The Rafale is a much newer plane — with much better radar — than what the Pakistanis have and what the Chinese have,” Bahadur said.

India began its search for crucial new warplanes in 2007 and is the world’s largest importer of arms over the past five years. Boeing Co.’s F/A-18 Super Hornet, Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-16 Fighting Falcon, United Aircraft Corp.’s MiG-35, Saab AB’s Gripen and the Eurofighter Typhoon were beaten in the race by Dassault’s Rafale.

The deal comes as India train fingers at Pakistan for harboring terrorists that attacked an army installation in Kashmir area of India about a week ago. Tensions between South Asia’s two nuclear powers are therefore palpable.

(Adapted from Bloomberg.com)

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Categories: Geopolitics

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