Is the lack of a 5th generation fighter going to hurt the Indian Air Force?

As Rafale jets arrived at Ambala airforce base, entire India was celebrating. After all, it was the first introduction of a western fighter aircraft in over 20 years. However, analysts have questioned the capabilities of Rafale while comparing it to Chinese and Pakistani fighter jets.

Following the induction of the first five Dassault Rafale fighters, the IAF has begun practising mountain flying. In an opinion piece by Angad Singh and Harsh V. Pant, who are both associated with Observer Research Foundation, the deal for the 36 French fighters won’t change the “hard reality that, as airpower, India is falling far behind”.

The authors acknowledge that Rafale indeed provides the Indian Air Force with a complete combat capability that requires very little further tinkering but goes on to say that the limited number of order is “a bow to fiscal realities”.

No matter how exceptional the Rafales are or how effective its long-range weaponry is, the addition of 36 jets will not dramatically modify the balance of power in the region, the authors argue. They added that China’s Western Theatre Command has deployed around 200 fighter jets on its border with India, while Pakistan has 350 fighters that it can put up against India.

However, Chinese capabilities are hampered due to the lack of airbases close to the border with India. On the other hand, Pakistan also suffers a few operating restrictions relating to bases and aircraft performance.

Lack of 5th generation fighter

As of now, with SU 30MKI and Rafale combination.. Certainty not. Going forward, the IAF does not have a combat aircraft with stealth and capable of flying at high speed without the use of afterburners i.e. with super cruise capability. Such aircraft are needed to operate in dense air defence environments to achieve air dominance. The longer combat ranges, smart weapons, passive and active sensors and data-link capabilities of these aircraft are needed.

Requirement to have a stealth fighter with multi-role capabilities in its inventory to cater for future threats has increased due to J20.

The Chengdu J-20, all weather, stealth, fifth generation air superiority fighter which is China’s trump card in aerial combat. It is world’s 3rd fully operational fighter aircraft after F-22 & F-35 & currently 28 aircraft are in active service with PLAAF.

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