That’s precisely why India had chosen French Rafales as its Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) that can counter the F-16’s capabilities. India’s Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar had told Parliament last week that the government had earlier this year withdrawn a 2007 tender for 126 MMRCA, a contest in which Rafale was chosen by India.
The two squadrons of F-16C/D variants of Pakistan Air Force (PAF) have superior electronic warfare capabilities and that’s what is worrying the IAF commanders, the highly-placed government official, who did not wish to be identified, citing service rules, said in a tête-à-tête with Arming India on July 30, 2015.
“It is not the BVR (Beyond Visual Range) air battles, but the close air battles that the Su-30s can’t match up with the F-16C/D variants. The PAF planes have superior electronic warfare capabilities and the contemporary air battles rely more on EW capabilities to beat an enemy combat plane in a one-on-one dogfight,” the official said.
The contemporary air battle strategies revolve around neutralizing enemy planes at beyond visual range. But there is a possibility that some enemy plane would sneak in through the air defense measures in place. In such a scenario, the enemy plane could wreak havoc on the Indian troops and assets on the ground. As a counter, fighter jets may have to be scrambled to take on the enemy plane one-on-one.
The official also noted that for every one F-16 that PAF has, India has to deploy two Su-30s if the enemy fleet is to be beaten. “If the F-16 goes after one Su-30, it can run and the other Su-30 can get a go at the enemy F-16. That way, the IAF has to deploy too many of its Su-30 resources for just countering the F-16s.”
PAF currently operates four F-16 squadrons, of which two deploy the F-16 Block 52 variants. India has inducted 10 Su-30 squadrons in its fleet till date and plan to have four more of the Russian-origin, India-built planes in the fleet soon.
In July 2015, American original equipment manufacturer Lockheed Martin received a follow-on foreign military sale contract to produce and upgrade Sniper Advanced Targeting Pods (ATP) for the PAF’s F-16 fleet. The contract includes the production of 15 Sniper ATPs and upgrades to the Pakistan Air Force’s existing 22 Sniper ATPs, according to an announcement from the company on July 14, 2015.
To meet the PAF’s urgent operational need, pod deliveries will begin in late 2015. Upgrades, which will increase compatibility with the aircraft and enable enhanced features, will also begin in late 2015.
The Rafales, the official said, would be the F-16 beaters in the IAF fleet and the present lot of 36, to be bought off-the-shelf, would meet the requirement of only two squadrons of the IAF. “The Rafales are far superior to the F-16s in all forms of combat, including the one-on-one dogfights and the electronic warfare. That’s why we need the Rafales,” the official said.
The two squadrons of Rafales for which India is negotiating with France at present will be the counter to the PAF’s F-16s. “But we need at least five more squadrons of the Rafales. A decision on whether to go in for more Rafales, beyond the 36 announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in April this year, is yet to be taken,” the official said.
Parrikar had told Parliament on July 28, 2015 that “the RFP issued earlier for procurement of 126 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) has been withdrawn.”
“In this multi-vendor procurement case, the Rafale aircraft met all the performance characteristics stipulated in the Request for Proposal (RFP) during the evaluation conducted by Indian Air Force,” he had said in a written reply to questions from parliamentarians that were released on July 30.
The India-France joint statement issued during Modi’s visit to Paris had mentioned that the Indian government conveyed to the French government that “in view of the critical operational necessity for multirole combat aircraft for Indian Air Force (IAF), India would like to acquire 36 Rafale jets in fly-away condition as quickly as possible.”
The two nations had then agreed to conclude an Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) for supply of the aircraft on terms that would be better than conveyed by Dassault Aviation as part of the now cancelled RFP process. The Rafales delivery would be in the time-frame that would be compatible with the operational requirement of IAF. The aircraft and associated systems and weapons would be delivered on the same configuration as had been tested and approved by IAF under the previous tender, and with a longer maintenance responsibility by France.
“A Negotiating Team has been constituted to negotiate the terms and conditions of the procurement of 36 Rafale jets and recommend a draft agreement. The meetings of the Indian Negotiating team with the French side have commenced,” Parrikar said.
The silver lining is that India’s Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) has superior capabilities than Pakistan’s JF-17, the official said, but did not explain why he thought so.
The IAF is now waiting for the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to deliver the first four LCA Mk-I planes so that it could raise a new squadron of the indigenous combat aircraft. “But the LCA Mk-1 is yet to obtain its Final Operational Clearance (FOC).”
The Indian government has approved the induction of two LCA Mk-1 squadrons and is waiting for the Mk-2 to be ready to place an order for five more of that variant for the IAF. “LCA Mk-2 is still far away.”
On January 10, 2015, an advanced electronic warfare suite (EW suite) developed by Defense Avionics Research Establishment (DARE), a DRDO laboratory, was deployed for the first time on the LCA. The Tejas-PV1 aircraft used the EW suite while flying in Bengaluru and HAL made a huge splash of this news that day.
In addition to the radar warner, the EW suite tested also has a jammer. It gives to the pilot an additional capability of nullifying the effect of detected radar threat by appropriate mode of jamming. Existing EW systems fitted on various combat aircraft are basic EW equipment known as Radar Warner Receiver to provide warning to the aircraft pilot in case of detection of a Radar threat.
Just seven days later, HAL delivered the first ‘Tejas’ LCA Mk-1 to the IAF, ahead of the aircraft achieving its FOC, which has been delayed beyond its schedule of December 2015 and is expected to only in later part of 2016. The LCA presented to the IAF was the first of the series production, with five more targeted to be produced in 2015-16. HAL would subsequently scale up production to eight and later to 16 aircraft. India has spent Rs.17,269 crore (Rs.172.69 billion/$2.8 billion) as development costs on the LCA program.
Parrikar also told parliament on July 31, 2015 that certain shortcomings were reported in LCA Mk-1 and that these would be addressed in the Mk-2 version of the combat plane.
The shortcomings found in LCA Mk-1 are:
1. Absence of Internal Jammer affecting survivability
2. Aircraft performance shortfalls.
3. Maintainability issues.
The above shortcomings were primarily due to following reasons:
1. Internal jammer technology at that time was based on TWT amplifier which needed about 1000 liter volume space for integration on aircraft. Hence it could not be accommodated at the time of development of LCA ‘Tejas’ Mk-I.
2. The maintainability issues were raised by Indian Air Force (IAF) late in 2009, when design and drawings were already frozen for Mk-I. However, many of the safety critical maintenance issues are already addressed in Mk-I.
“The government has sanctioned the project for development of LCA Mk-II in 2009. Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) is the prime agency for development of LCA Mk-II with the public and private partnerships. All the above mentioned shortcomings in LCA Mk-I have been addressed in LCA Mk-II version,” Parrikar said in a written reply to questions from parliamentarians.
The LCAs are the aircraft that IAF intends to use as a replacement of the existing fleet of erstwhile Soviet-origin MiG-21s and MiG-27s. IAF has targeted the number-plating of two of its MiG-21 squadrons and one MiG-27 squadron in the second half of 2015, the government official told Arming India. This will be followed by the phasing out of one each of the MiG-21 and MiG-27 squadrons in 2016. IAF currently operates 15 squadrons of MiG-21 and MiG-27 combat planes.