A new order for a further 36 Dassault Rafale fighters will be signed in early 2020, suggests a recently published report by the Indian Defence Research Wing. Moves toward ordering a second batch were first reported in early 2017 and attributed to rising tensions with China. The new order would take India’s Rafale fleet to 72 aircraft—slightly more than half of the original 126-aircraft total outlined in the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA or MRCA) requirement, an RFP for which was issued in 2007.
An order for a second batch of Rafales would likely spell the end of U.S. efforts to sell Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets or Lockheed Martin F-21 (F-16V) Vipers to India and could help Dassault to win a place on the team developing India’s new fifth-generation AMCA (Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft).
The Rafale was selected in 2011, beating the rival Eurofighter Typhoon on cost grounds, but after cost increases, delays, and a disagreement as to the liability for 108 Indian-assembled aircraft, the requirement for 126 aircraft was officially withdrawn on July 31, 2015. In its place, India signed a €7.8 billion contract on September 23, 2016, for just 36 French-built Rafales. The order was for 28 Rafale EH single-seaters and eight Rafale DH two-seat dual-control trainers. Delivery of the aircraft was to be completed in 67 months from the date the contract was signed, beginning in September 2019 and ending in April 2022.
The aircraft for the Indian Air Force (Bharatiya Vayu Sena, BVS) incorporate a range of India-specific enhancements, including a new weather mapping mode for the RBE-2 AESA radar, an uprated onboard oxygen generating system (OBOGS), modifications to the Sigma 95N IN/GPS to allow it to use India’s NAVIC IRNSS GPS satellites, and modifications to the M88 starter for improved operation at high-altitude airfields.
The Rafale DH and EH also have provision for the Elbit Targo-II helmet-mounted display system, the Rafael Litening G4 targeting pod, Rafael X-Guard towed radar decoys, a Rafael standby radar altimeter, an upgraded Spectra electronic warfare system, a new Thales TCAS, and quadruple launchers for the SPICE 250-based DEW EMP weapons being jointly developed by India and Israel. There is provision for a range of weapons in India’s inventory, including the BrahMos-NG supersonic cruise missile.
Only one Rafale (RB008) will be delivered with all of these enhancements, the remainder having them incorporated in-country. RB008 will be used for flight testing and certification of the additions, which are expected to be available from September 2022.
The first Rafale DH for the Indian Air Force (serial RB001) made its first flight at Bordeaux-Merignac on July 17, 2019. An official, formal handover ceremony is planned for October 8, when Defence Minister Rajnath Singh will be visiting France.
The first batch of 18 Rafales will be delivered to No. 17 Squadron, the “Golden Arrows,” based at AFS Ambala, in Haryana state. The second batch will equip No. 1 Squadron “Tigers” at AFS Hashimara in West Bengal. No. 17 Squadron previously flew the MiG-21 and disbanded at Bhatinda in 2016, before being officially reformed at Ambala on September 10 this year. No. 1 Squadron is currently equipped with Mirage 2000H/THs at AFS Gwalior/Maharajpur in Madhya Pradesh.