Rafale Jet Deal Expands India’s Nuclear Strike Capabilities

Wednesday an Indian cabinet committee approved an agreement to purchase 36 Rafale fighter jets from France’s Dassault Aviation, according to reports from The Nation and Defense News. France and India have been working on the deal since 2012, but it has faced repeated delays.

India’s air force has fallen behind regional military powers like China and Pakistan in recent years, at a time when China is increasingly flexing its growing military muscle in the area. China and Pakistan, an old and sometimes bitter rival of India, have also been forming new military ties. The two nations conducted joint border patrols along the disputed Kashmir region in recent weeks, something that had not occurred before, the Times of India reported.

India hopes the Rafale jets, considered by some to be among the best fighters in the world, will help them improve their Air Force’s standing in the region. The jets are extremely expensive, though, with the total price for the deal including armaments, training, extra parts, and modifications, expected to total approximately $8.8 billion, according to Defense News. Despite the hefty price tag, the Rafale deal still falls well short of satisfying all the needs of the Indian Air Force.

“The purchase comes as the Indian Air Force fleet, comprised mostly of Russian MiGs, is reaching the end of their service and with the military only fulfilling 32 fighter jet squadrons despite defense planning calling for the existence of 42 squadrons,” a recent report from Sputnik notes. “The 36 Rafale fighter jets, however, do very little to fill the capability gap that [India] is expected to face in the coming years with the jets only filling two squadrons collectively.”

India plans to create the remaining squadrons it will still need from Tejas light fighter jets, manufactured by India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, as well as American F-16s, according to Sputnik.

There is perhaps one major factor that swayed the Indian government in the direction of purchasing the Rafale fighters. They’re capable of delivering nuclear payloads.

“The French Air Force, Armee de l’ Air, is shifting from Mirages to Rafales for its nuclear strike role this year,” defense officials told the Sunday Express on the condition of anonymity. “They have already started the process, and although our nuclear delivery systems are different from theirs, it does tell us that Rafale is suited for that task.”

A second official also said the Rafale fighter jets would likely assume the role of delivering nuclear bombs.

“The French Mirage-2000s have been modified for the delivery of our strategic arsenal. France has continued to provide maintenance, spares and technical support for these Mirages, which may not have been the case with some other foreign countries. We expect the same degree of cooperation from France when we modify and use the Rafales for that role.”

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War is Boring’s Robert Beckhusen notes that the Rafale jet fighters alone won’t be enough to “give India an advantage over its nuclear-armed neighbors.” However, India is also developing a new ballistic missiles pack with “significantly greater range” and which would be “far more difficult to stop.”

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar are scheduled to meet on Friday to finalize the Rafale jet deal, according to Defense News.

“A sale to India would be the third export deal for the Rafale and the largest since France sold 24 of the twin-engined fighter to both Egypt and Qatar, said Etienne Daum, a consultant at the think tank Compagnie Européenne d’Intelligence Stratégique,” Defense News reports.

There’s no word on when modifications to the Rafale fighter jets to make them nuclear-capable will be complete. The government of India is sure to expedite the process in order to keep up with neighboring militaries.

[Featured Image by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images]