First Rafale is delivered. But IAF is still short of requisite modern fighters
France has handed over the first Rafale fighter jet to India in what is being seen as a much-needed shot in the arm for the Indian Air Force. Defence minister Rajnath Singh presided over the delivery and even performed shastra puja on the jet. However, the first four of the order of 36 Rafales will only arrive in India in May next year after the IAF induction team of pilots, engineers and technicians are trained in France. All 36 jets will only arrive by April 2022.
More than prayers are needed, as the IAF is still looking at an alarming shortage of fighters. In a few years’ time the number of fighter squadrons of the IAF will be down to 26 from a sanctioned strength of 42. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s fighter squadrons will be up to 25 by 2021. Therefore, the 36 Rafales will do little to mitigate the fundamental crisis of numbers in IAF fighters.
Thus, the delivery of Rafales can only be seen as the first step in solving the problem at hand. Much more is needed in terms of procurement of cutting-edge fighters and ramping up indigenous production — including that of Tejas fighters — to ensure that the IAF is ready to meet all security challenges. The Rafales are indeed a welcome addition. But we shouldn’t start celebrating yet.