India ordered 36 Rafale jets from France in a deal worth Rs 59,000 crore in September 2016 as an emergency purchase to arrest the worrying slide in the air force’s combat capabilities. Credit: Handout.

It was bound to happen, and India has no choice. Bullied by a menacing China, it must push every button, and then some.

Fresh, shiny new combat-ready Rafale fighter jets, sitting on the tarmac — why not send them up?

Military strategists know that one good strafing by French-made Rafale’s toting Meteor missiles in the Ladakh sector would end China’s occupation in minutes — but who wants to start a war of attrition?

Fact is, the Indian Air Force could deploy its new Rafale fighter jets in the Ladakh sector as part of India’s overarching plan to strengthen its military posture in the region, according to an official familiar with developments, the Hindustan Times reported.

Indian and Chinese forces are locked in a tense border confrontation and disengagement has turned out to be a challenging process, the official said on Sunday, ahead of a key IAF commanders’ meet this week.

The stumbling government of Chinese President Xi Jinping seems intent on destroying any goodwill in the region, a situation that will undoubtedly come at a cost.

Acting on a special request by the IAF, France is speeding up the deliveries of Rafale fighters to India and six jets are likely to land at their home base in Ambala on July 27 — instead of four that were originally planned to be delivered in the first batch, the report said.

“Air and ground crews have undergone full training on the aircraft including advanced weapons systems over the last one year in France,” said one of the officials cited above, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The IAF is looking at means to operationalise the Rafale in the quickest possible time and the new fighters could be deployed wherever there is a requirement including Ladakh, the report said.

The possible role of Rafale fighters could be discussed at the IAF commanders’ conference in New Delhi from July 22 to 24 where the air force brass is expected to focus on the ongoing border row with China, the IAF’s preparedness and new purchases that have to be made to stay prepared for any eventuality, said a second official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.

India-specific enhancements on the jets include cold engine start capability to operate from high-altitude bases, the report said.

India ordered 36 Rafale jets from France in a deal worth Rs 59,000 crore (US$7.9 billion) in September 2016 as an emergency purchase to arrest the worrying slide in the air force’s combat capabilities.

The arrival of the Rafale will add punch to the IAF’s capability, said Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retd), additional director general at the Centre for Air Power Studies, the report said.

“For sure, there will be a period of integration with other systems, and it (Rafale) would be put to use as the operational planners deem fit,” Bahadur said.

According to the original delivery schedule, the first 18 jets (including the four in the first batch) were to be delivered to the IAF by February 2021, with the rest expected in April-May 2022. Future deliveries will also being accelerated.

In the Ladakh sector, the IAF is projecting its capability to carry out day-and-night, all-weather combat missions, with front-line fighter jets, attack helicopters and multi-mission choppers getting airborne regularly for demanding night-time missions from a forward base in the area, the report said.

The air force’s MiG-29 fighter jets, Sukhoi-30s, Apache AH-64E attack helicopters and CH-47F (I) Chinook multi-mission helicopters are among the platforms undertaking night missions in the mountainous terrain.

Weapons included beyond visual range (BVR) air-to-air missile, Meteor, which has the capability to hit targets over 120 kilometers away, and the long-range air-to-ground stand-off cruise missile, SCALP, which can strike targets 600 kilometers away, according to The Print.

The integration of Meteor into the Rafale weapons system means an Indian Rafale would be able to shoot down an enemy aircraft over 100 kilometers away without even crossing Indian air space.

The 5.1-meter-long SCALP can be carried in either one missile or two missiles configuration on the Rafale. Its inclusion means Indian Rafales would not have to cross the Indian airspace to hit a target that is about 600 kilometers in enemy territory.