Amid the current crop of high-flying fifth-generation stealth fighter jets like US’ Lockheed Martin F-35s, China’s J-20s and soon to be Russia’s Su-57s, there lie a few combat aircrafts boasting a credible pedigree, but still flying way below the radar.
Falling under the bracket of 4++ generation fighters, the lot may not be the stealthiest but carry all the tools under their locker to make for a successful combat aircraft capable of instilling fear within enemy defenses, without making much of a fuss about themselves.
Two such fighters who have been in the fray for a while are well acquainted with the Indian Air Force, who almost acquired one of them, but opted to choose the other.
The Eurofighter Typhoons and the French-made Dassault Rafales were shortlisted by New Delhi ahead of an array of modern fighter jets like US F-16s along with Boeing’s F/A-18 Hornets, Russia’s MiG-35 and Sweden’s Saab’s Gripen looking to clinch the deal, before finally settling on to buy 36 Rafales to the country.
However, despite New Delhi’s snub, the Eurofighters are considered to have a higher market than that of Paris’ prized possessions. As of 2019, over 550 Typhoon jets had been sold to Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Austria, Oman, and Saudi Arabia.
As things stood last year, more than 550 Typhoon jets had been bought by the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Italy, Austria, Oman, and Saudi Arabia, whereas the export orders for Rafales range from 36 for India, 36 for Qatar, 24 for Egypt and 180 out of a planned 286 for the French Air Force itself.
“The French bird has lost out on sales in Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Kuwait, Singapore, and South Korea. The Rafale’s sales prospects are said to be affected due to the high purchase price of the aircraft besides high operational costs,”
The two jets are currently in the race and are courting Finland (HX program), Spain, Switzerland (Air 2030 program), and the United Arab Emirates to bag additional orders.” as reported by the Bureau of the Defense World.
As many as 450 Typhoons have entered the service with an additional 150 currently on order, with the fighters boasting a reputation for being one of the most lethal dogfighters in the world due to their high maneuverability and energy preservation characteristics.
The fighters, which can fly at top speeds of Mach 2, incorporate a blend of features from the fourth-generation fighters and modern fifth-generation fighters, as while they are not exactly stealthy, they have the lowest radar cross-section than any fourth-generation fighter, while also possessing Electronic Warfare (EW) capabilities.
Typhoons also boast of excellent Beyond-Visual Range (BVR) combat capabilities and could soon be equipped with the MBDA Meteor long-range missile in an operational capacity, which is only destined to enhance its lethality in aerial combat.
Former US Air Force Chief of Air Staff John P. Jumper stands as the only man to have flown both the Typhoons and the US exclusive F-22 Raptor and gives an insight on what it is like to be on both the planes.
“They are different kinds of airplanes to start with,” Jumper said. “It’s like asking us to compare a NASCAR car with a Formula 1 car. They are both exciting in different ways, but they are designed for different levels of performance,”
The Eurofighter is certainly, as far as smoothness of controls and the ability to pull (and sustain high G forces), very impressive,”
“That is what it was designed to do, especially the version I flew, with the avionics, the color moving map displays, etc.—all absolutely top-notch. The maneuverability of the airplane in close-in combat was also very impressive,” said Jumper.
Despite trailing behind contemporaries especially the Rafales when it comes to air-ground capabilities, the Typhoons have been a mainstay in militaries of the UK, Spain, Italy, and Germany and are destined to serve them until mid for another two decades, till the time they are replaced by a sixth-generation stealth jet.
The Typhoon is projected to stay in service with the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, and Germany until the mid- 2030s or early 2040s when it will be replaced by newer, sixth-generation stealthy designs.
The aircraft have also had spectacular combat history in Britain’s Royal Air Force against ISIS, while also serving well in the Middle East with the Royal Saudi Air Force, leading to incoming bids from several Middle Eastern countries.
However, what was a sting in the tail for the Typhoons was their eventual rejection at the hands of the Indian authorities who felt that the French Rafales would cater more to their requirements.
One of the key points which turned Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s heads towards Paris was that the French had absolutely no problem with the Rafale being modified to carry a nuclear payload, with India having to get the approval of four countries to do the same if it chose the Typhoons.
With Germany already holding a strong non-proliferation record, Paris gave a go-ahead for India’s plans of the Rafale spearheading its nuclear triad.
According to experts – “Though Airbus Defence and Space assured cooperation in India’s choice of weapons, no explicit assurance on nuclear weapons was provided in the proposal,”
Germany, one of the owners of the Typhoon project, is very anti-nuclear and so policymakers in India opted to go with their French competitor.”
Moreover, the Rafale, despite not being a stealth aircraft like the F-35, does carry moderate stealth capabilities to avoid radar and infrared reduction, making it a far superior alternative than the Typhoons.
The fighters twin-engine enables it to have higher maneuverability than an F-35 in a close-range dogfight and has the ability to fly at supersonic speeds with less fuel-usage, thereby keeping it an edge above the Typhoons, China’s J10, J11, and Su-27 fighter jets.
Stefanos Karavidas, a retired pilot of Greece’s Hellenic Air Force (HAF), was the first pilot in his homeland to fly the Rafale fighters and has only great things to say about the lethal combat aircraft.
“I flew in the back seat of such an aircraft during the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Tiger exercise in 2015, in Konya, Turkey, and I saw for myself its capabilities. It is an excellent flying platform, it has exceptional flexibility, exceptional excess power.”