It was an impressive display of global fighter jets at Aero India
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Jet, Set, Go

It was an impressive display of global fighter jets at Aero India

Dilip Kumar Mekala

Aero India needs fresh infusion of ideas Unlike other international air shows, Aero India and particularly this edition of the show should perhaps be measured in decibels rather than the dollar numbers from signed deals. With Gripen, F-16, Rafale, LCA and Su-30MKI performing aerobatics on a daily basis, while offering joy rides to journalists, industrialists, politicians and celebrities, this Aero India certainly seemed like a busy one in the air. On the ground, however, a different story played out. But again, we are only measuring the decibels.

The reason for this loud enthusiasm is easy to understand. Indian Air Force (IAF) is looking for a new line of fighter jet, probably a single engine aircraft, to improve its depleting fighting squadrons for which Saab’s Gripen-E, Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Block 70 and Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet (despite being a twin-engine fighter) are in the race. Indian Navy’s urgent requirement for a combat-proven carrier-borne aircraft (tender for which has recently been issued) is another reason for this enthusiasm. Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet, Dassault’s Rafale-M and Saab’s Gripen-Maritime (even though there is no prototype flying at the moment) are competing for the programme. Although the emphasis on combat proven aircraft would mean the competition will come down to F/A-18 and Rafale-M. And banking heavily on the strategic partnership, Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) is relying on Su-30MKI and its MiG platforms to further its collaboration. Russia is pitching its newly launched MiG-35 as an extension to the MiG-29 platforms that are already in service with the Indian forces.

Three Rafale fighters - single-seat Rafale C and two two-seat Rafale-B - participated in the aerial display at Yelahanka during the inauguration ceremony. Apart from this, Rafale also flew solo as part of the daily air display. According to the French company, Dassault Aviation, this full-house participation of the fighter in Aero India, after the acquisition of 36 Rafales by the IAF in September 2016, is consistent with its endevour to illustrate its commitment to India and Indian interests. From the company’s perspective, the agreement on three Rafale fighters is illustrative of the strategic relationship and the exemplary partnership between India and France and marks the natural progression of the relationship of trust, which began in 1953 when India became Dassault Aviation’s first export customer.

“Dassault Aviation has contributed to India’s defence preparedness for more than 60 years,” said Eric Trappier, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Dassault Aviation. “Demonstrating Rafale’s capabilities at Aero India reaffirms our total commitment to India’s sovereignty. We have a long-standing relationship with IAF and the industry and, thanks to the unmatched capabilities of the Rafale and to our full involvement in the innovative approach of the ‘Make in India’ initiative, we are entirely dedicated to partner India in meeting its strategic defence and economic needs”.

IAF’s version of Rafale might come with multi spectral airborne collection camera called MS-110 (manufactured by UTC Aerospace Systems), which will enhance the surveillance capabilities of the aircraft manifold. While holding back on the details due to the strategic nature of the programme, Dr Richard Wileman, director of international business development for UTC Aerospace Systems told FORCE, “We are continuing our work with Indian agencies for airborne collection assets”. The company has highlighted its latest product, MS-110 camera, at the air show. Specifically on the MS-110 programme for Rafale aircraft, he sounded optimistic. “We have worked with Dassault before”. The MS-110 is the advanced version of its hugely popular DB-110 camera and provides increased identification capabilities and advanced range. “The MS-110 has a detection range of 100 nautical miles (185.2 km)”, said Wileman. The multispectral camera is compatible with a wide array of airborne platforms like F-16, F-15 and C-130J aircraft.

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