As the Indian Air Force continues to work up its first five Dassault Rafale fighters, a US media article has warned the deal for the 36 French fighters won’t change the “hard reality that, as an air power, India is falling far behind”.
Two Indian experts, Harsh V. Pant and Angad Singh, authored the article on Foreign Policy, which was published on Monday. Pant is director of research at the Observer Research Foundation think tank while Angad Singh is a project coordinator at the same institution.
Angad and Pant wrote in Foreign Policy that the deal for 36 Rafale jets will go “some way toward” filling the Indian Air Force’s larger requirement of 126 fighter jets. The requirement for 126 jets was first mooted after the Kargil War in 1999. The Rafale was selected as the preferred bidder for a deal for 126 jets in 2012, but a contract could not be finalised. In 2015, the Narendra Modi government cancelled the tender as it announced its plan to buy 36 Rafale jets.
“The Indian Air Force has historically been one of the best-equipped air forces in the region, but it has seen its advantage, both qualitative and quantitative, against China and Pakistan narrow dramatically over the past two decades. Even worse, it now faces the challenge of mustering enough aircraft to tackle any possible collusion between the Pakistani and Chinese air forces,” Angad and Pant write in Foreign Policy. They noted China appeared to be increasing deployments to airfields in Tibet, while Pakistan had conducted exercises at its airbase at Skardu in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
The Foreign Policy article acknowledges the Rafale ” finally provides the Indian Air Force with a comprehensive combat craft that requires very little further tinkering”, buts adds the limited order number is “a bow to fiscal realities”. Foreign Policy cites the fall in squadron numbers in the Indian Air Force, which is expected to reach 30 squadrons by 2025, against a government-approved strength of 42 squadrons.