India’s newly-acquired five Rafale fighters are practising night flying in the mountainous terrain of Himachal Pradesh so that the Golden Arrows squadron with its Meteor beyond visual range air-to-air missile and SCALP air-to-ground stand-off weapon will be ready if the situation deteriorates on the 1,597 km-long Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Ladakh sector, people familiar with the matter said.
The first batch of Rafale fighters, which landed at the Indian Air Force air base at Ambala on July 29, are “fully operational” with the first 18 platforms to be placed in Ambala and the next 18 fighters to be based in Hasimara air base near the border with Bhutan. India has contracted to purchase 36 jets made by Dassault Aviation, South Block officials said.
A government official said the top-of-the-line fighter jets are staying away from the LAC lest the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) radars in occupied Aksai Chin identify their frequency signatures and use it to jam in the worst case scenario.
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Military aviation experts, however, say that Rafales can also be used for training in Ladakh sector as all these fighters are equipped with programmable signal processors (PSP) or the capacity to change signal frequencies in the event of hostilities.
“Even though the Chinese PLA have placed their electronic intelligence radars on mountain tops in the occupied Aksai Chin area for a clear line of sight, the war-time signature of Rafale will be different from that in practise mode. The PLA aircraft detection radars are good as they have been manufactured keeping the US air force in mind,” said an expert.
The Rafale jets are armed with Meteor beyond visual range air-to-air missiles, MICA multi-mission air-to-air missiles and Scalp deep-strike cruise missiles — weapons that will allow fighter pilots to attack air and ground targets from standoff ranges and fill a significant capability gap.
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The Meteor missiles have a no-escape zone believed to be three times greater than that of current medium-range air-to-air missiles. The missile system, powered by a unique rocket-ramjet motor, has a range of over 120 kilometres.
The SCALP is a deep-strike cruise missile with pinpoint terminal accuracy through its highly accurate seeker and target recognition system.
Even though the India-China diplomatic and military interlocutors are in constant dialogue for total disengagement of troops in eastern Ladakh, the three services are not only focused on western sector but also the remaining part of the LAC as well as the high seas. Last week, Army Chief General MM Naravane made it clear to central and eastern army commanders that they should not be caught by surprise by the PLA on the LAC and should be in the highest state of military preparedness.
The Indian Navy has also been told to monitor the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean to ensure that Chinese PLA warships are kept at bay from the Indian seaboard and island territories. The surface and undersea assets are on operational alert with Chinese ships being monitored from Malacca Straits to Gulf of Aden.
Even though the Chinese PLA air activity has reduced in the Ladakh sector as compared to the first week of July post Galwan flare-up, the Indian Air Force is taking no chances and is tracking the air movements, particularly at Lhasa Gonggar airbase in the Tibet region and Hotan airbase in China’s Xinjiang region.
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