NEW DELHI: India is going to deploy its new Rafale fighters against French Rafales for a joint exercise called “Desert Knight” at Jodhpur this week, in the first such high-voltage combat manoeuvers for the omni-role jets since they were inducted by the IAF last year.
The Rafales will also make their debut at the Republic Day parade this year. Two of the 4.5-generation fighters will be among the 15 fighters, five transport aircraft, 21 helicopters and a vintage Dakota that will take part in the flypast on January 26. The showstopper will be a Rafale that will undertake the “Vertical Charlie” manoeuver by tearing into the sky directly over the Rajpath.
IAF till now has inducted eight of the 36 Rafales, which are also capable of delivering nuclear weapons, under the Rs 59,000 crore deal inked with France in September 2016. Another three are slated to touch down in India by the end of this month. All 36 will be delivered by end-2022.
The aim of the Desert Knight exercise, in which India and France will deploy fighters, transport planes and mid-air refueling aircraft from January 20 to 24, “is to provide operational exposure and share best practices towards enhancing combat capabilities”, said officials on Monday.
“The French forces are currently deployed in Asia as part of their ‘Skyros deployment’, and will be transiting through India. The Desert Knight exercise is in addition to the regular ‘Garuda’ wargames held between the two air forces. It’s indicative of the earnestness of the two to enhance mutual cooperation by making use of the available opportunities for fruitful interaction,” he added.
The twin-engine Rafales have a combat range of 780-km to 1,650-km, without mid-air refueling, depending on the nature of their mission. The IAF fighters are armed with long stand-off weapons like the over 300-km range `Scalp’ air-to-ground cruise missiles.
The fighters are also being equipped with the top-notch Meteor air-to-air missiles, which with a strike range of 120 to 150-km can outgun any missile that can currently be unleashed by Pakistani or Chinese jets.
IAF has also ordered the “Hammer” air-to-ground precision-guided munitions for the Rafales, in a deal that came last year amidst the ongoing military confrontation with China in eastern Ladakh.
With a strike range of 20 to 70-km, the Hammer munitions are designed to destroy bunkers, hardened shelters and other targets in all terrains, including the mountainous one in Ladakh.