The IAF has sought 13 India-specific enhancement capabilities for the aircraft. 13 enhancements to be done locally in batches of 7

The enhanced capabilities in the Rafale fighters sought by the India will be incorporated after all the 36 jets are delivered, according to sources in the Defence Ministry.

There are 13 India Specific Enhancement (ISE) capabilities sought by the Indian Air Force (IAF) which will be incorporated in batches after April 2022, an official source said.

“After the 36th jet is delivered, the first 35 aircraft would be modified in India by Dassault Aviation at the rate of seven aircraft per month so that all 36 aircraft would be of the same capability by September 2022,” the official source with knowledge of the matter said.

67-Month Wait

The first Rafale for India has made its maiden flight on October 30 in France and is designated RB 008. It will, however, be the last to be delivered to the IAF in April 2022, 67 months after the signing of the Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA).

“This aircraft would be used to test and certify the ISE which can only be employed after certification,” the official stated.

An IAF document accessed by The Hindu states that the 13 ISE capabilities are “not present in the Rafale aircraft being operated by other countries. These capabilities pertain to radar enhancements which will provide the force with better long range capability. One of the specific capability being acquired is the ‘helmet mounted display’ through which IAF pilots will be able to counter many threats simultaneously.

“Another very significant capability enhancement sought is the ability to start and operate from high altitude airfields,” the document states. The enhancement includes an advanced infra red search-and-track sensor and a very potent electronic Jammer pod. “The remaining ISE capability pertain to avionics,” the document stated.

In September 2016, India and France signed a €7.87 billion IGA for 36 Rafale multi-role fighter jets in fly-away condition following the surprise announcement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in April 2015 citing “critical operational necessity” of the IAF.

As per the IGA, deliveries begin 36 months from signing of contract and will be completed in 67 months. The government has consistently maintained that the deal for 36 jets was done to ensure quick delivery of fighter aircraft to the IAF which is facing a drop in squadron strength.

Egyptian Model

In contrast, Egypt which signed a €5.2 bn deal for 24 Rafale jets — 16 two-seater and eight single-seater variants — in February 2015, took delivery of the first batch of three aircraft in July of the same year.

Commenting on this, Air Marshal M. Matheswaran (Retd), who oversaw the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) procurement in the past, said structural changes required would be carried out in all aircraft during manufacture and only software upgrades carried out later.

“There would be some software standards which would be incorporated once the production standards are ready. This can be quickly done,” he said.

Air Marshal Matheswaran added that it was good that some of the testing would be done in India, as the IAF would be involved and gain from the process. On the quick deliveries to Egypt, he observed that Dassault Aviation may have taken them off from the French assembly line as Egypt acquired the same variant.

Another officer Air Vice Marshal Amit Aneja (Retd) too echoed these views. He said the upgrade rate of seven per month means “it is software integration” which is inserted and upgraded. “The aircraft looks the same. It is the capability enhancement. It is all about avionics, sensors and sensor fusion. And sensor fusion capability is the most critical aspect today,” he said.