Friday, October 22, 2021

Missing In Action: Rafale Fighter Jets ‘Conspicuously Absent’ From Kashmir Airshow; Experts Decode The Reason

The absence of India’s most advanced fighter jet – Dassault Rafale from an air show in strategically important Kashmir has raised many questions.


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The Indian Air Force (IAF) audience enthralled the onlookers assembled at Dal Lake in Srinagar on Sunday to witness the fascinating air show put by the force.

The air show called ‘Give Wings to Your Dreams’ was the first-of-its-kind event in the valley in more than a decade, and according to the IAF, aimed at inspiring confidence in the youth of Kashmir towards the nation and the military.

Many aircraft of the IAF, including Su-30MKI, MiG-21 Bison, the newly inducted Chinook, performed various maneuvers over the Dal Lake, with IAF’s Surya Kiran Aerobatics Team putting up a grand display in the Srinagar skies.  

According to a statement from the ministry of defense, the show attracted a footfall of over 10,000 people, many of whom were school children from local schools. The display was reportedly part of celebrations of the 75th year of independence.

Besides the Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, the event was witnessed by Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief HQ Western Air Command Air Marshal BR Krishna, who was the senior-most IAF Officer and the Chief host gracing the occasion.

Although the air show had all the elements of a grand ceremony, with an impressive performance delivered by India’s latest prized possession – the Chinook, the absence of India’s newest frontline aircraft Rafale was conspicuous.

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IAF Airshow In Kashmir

Recently, Rafale aircraft mesmerized hundreds of visitors who thronged the Sukhna Lake, Chandigarh during an air performance. The air show was organized by the Chandigarh Air Force Station to mark Swarnim Vijay Diwas of the 1971 War.

Rafale fighters are the newly acquired fighter platforms of the IAF and the most advanced in its arsenal with two squadrons of the French-made fighters already operational. The absence of such aircraft at an air show, especially in strategically important Kashmir raises some questions.

However, according to the military analyst and former IAF pilot Vijainder K Thakur, Rafales are operationally deployed. “The training and operational commitments of the two squadrons would not afford them the luxury of display flying,” he told EurAsian Times.

IAF operationalized its second Rafale squadron, the No. 101 Squadron, in July this year at Hasimara base in West Bengal, the first one was operationalized in Chandigarh last year. The squadrons are positioned at air bases that would give them quick access to air operations against any Chinese misadventure in the eastern sector.

According to Thakur, the Rafale numbers are limited and the aircraft is expensive. “The IAF needs to develop tactics to optimally utilize the capability that they represent,” he added.

IAF has only added some 26 Rafale jets so far with more expected to arrive later this year. With the deployment of all the Rafales in the Eastern sector, India hopes to match the air superiority against China’s J-20 stealth jets.

Dassault RAFALE LOW Aerobatic Display @ PARIS AIRSHOW | Fighter Jet Aerobatics, Lowpasses & Landing! - YouTube
Dassault RAFALE LOW Aerobatic Display @ PARIS AIRSHOW

With the increase in tensions with China since last year at the border, India deployed all of its frontline fighter jets like Sukhoi 30 MKI, Jaguar, and Mirage 2000 in the strategic air bases in eastern Ladakh and other regions along the LAC.

The Rafales are badly needed in operational deployment for crucial air roles, and with their numbers very small in the IAF, it’s only natural that their availability for such air shows will remain minimal.

“The Srinagar air show wasn’t a strategic one and only aimed at inspiring the local Kashmiri youth to join the Indian armed forces. The IAF conducts such small air shows frequently across many states, and the presence of strategically important aircraft such as Rafale wasn’t important, says air marshal (retd) Anil Chopra.

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IAF Airshow In Kashmir

He says that it wasn’t a war exercise with the full-scale participation of India’s air assets, in which the IAF makes different arrangements. Chopra says the event was only for entertaining and inspiring the public and the presence of air assets like Rafales may not have been necessary.

India’s premier warhorses have been on constant vigil on both eastern and western borders following tensions with both the neighbors in recent years. India also seeks to significantly enhance its fighter fleets with the acquisition of more aircraft from other countries, besides inducting the indigenous Tejas aircraft to trim the shortfall.

  • Younis Dar is a senior defense journalist. Younis has studied journalism from the prestigious Indian Institute of Mass Communication. An avid science geek, Younis likes to report and write on defense, space and technology, climate, renewable energy and other subjects. He can be reached at [email protected]
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