Is the lack of a 5th generation fighter going to hurt the Indian Air Force?
As Rafale jets arrived at Ambala airforce base, entire India was celebrating. After all, it was the first introduction of a western fighter aircraft in over 20 years. However, analysts have questioned the capabilities of Rafale while comparing it to Chinese and Pakistani fighter jets.
Following the induction of the first five Dassault Rafale fighters, the IAF has begun practising mountain flying. In an opinion piece by Angad Singh and Harsh V. Pant, who are both associated with Observer Research Foundation, the deal for the 36 French fighters won’t change the “hard reality that, as airpower, India is falling far behind”.
The authors acknowledge that Rafale indeed provides the Indian Air Force with a complete combat capability that requires very little further tinkering but goes on to say that the limited number of order is “a bow to fiscal realities”.
No matter how exceptional the Rafales are or how effective its long-range weaponry is, the addition of 36 jets will not dramatically modify the balance of power in the region, the authors argue. They added that China’s Western Theatre Command has deployed around 200 fighter jets on its border with India, while Pakistan has 350 fighters that it can put up against India.
However, Chinese capabilities are hampered due to the lack of airbases close to the border with India. On the other hand, Pakistan also suffers a few operating restrictions relating to bases and aircraft performance.
Lack of 5th generation fighter
As of now, with SU 30MKI and Rafale combination.. Certainty not. Going forward, the IAF does not have a combat aircraft with stealth and capable of flying at high speed without the use of afterburners i.e. with super cruise capability. Such aircraft are needed to operate in dense air defence environments to achieve air dominance. The longer combat ranges, smart weapons, passive and active sensors and data-link capabilities of these aircraft are needed.
Requirement to have a stealth fighter with multi-role capabilities in its inventory to cater for future threats has increased due to J20.
The Chengdu J-20, all weather, stealth, fifth generation air superiority fighter which is China’s trump card in aerial combat. It is world’s 3rd fully operational fighter aircraft after F-22 & F-35 & currently 28 aircraft are in active service with PLAAF.
Now imagine if the political diplomacy between India & China crashes & the conflict like the Doklam Crisis elevates, the two countries would be in a situation of a pseudo war. This would see rising tensions along the McMahon Line & inevitably the fight for aerial supremacy would began.
IAF would deploy it’s best assets like the Su-30MKI & the Rafale. Though Rafale has a low radar cross section (RCS) of 0.5 – 1 meter square making it detectable at lower ranges, the mighty Su-30MKI has a RCS of 4 meter square in the front profile & 21 meter square from the top profile. Such a huge structure can be detected from the extreme end of the distance spectrum of the J-20. So the Flanker will be at a disadvantage if the J-20 first spots it and fires a BVR (Beyond visual range) missile. Even if the Sukhoi is capable of breaking the lock, it won’t be able to fire back because it’s radar cannot find the stealthy J-20 from such distances.
Enters the AMCA
The AMCA’s projected capabilities are still confidential but it is safe to assume that it can surpass the capabilities of the Chinese J-20 once it comes into service.
Till then, in my opinion, lack of a 5th generation fighter is a threat to the IAF if China gets a little too adventurous with their neighbors.
But there is a small twist, the S-400.
The S-400 is a multi layered air defense missile system which in theory can “detect” a stealth fighter & if it is true, it can change the game, if not provide a decisive advantage.
This (Can Russia’s S-300 and S-400 Beat America’s Stealth Fighters in Battle?) website says that the early warning and acquisitions radars of the S-400 system, operating in the VHF, UHF, L and S bands can detect and track a tactical fighter-sized stealth aircraft. But the system doesn’t deliver a weapons quality track & hence the missiles can’t be fired.
In lay man terms, the S-400 can “see” the incoming stealth aircraft, but cannot engage it with it’s missiles.
Though this detection & tracking capability can be theoretically coupled with the patrolling aircraft to equip them with the same radar imagery inside the cockpit that the S-400 radar sees. This increases the situational awareness of the aircraft & they, even though still can’t fire the missiles, can approach the enemy stealth aircraft head on to engage it in a close quarter dogfight, in which the J-20 is inferior to Sukhoi-30MKI.
Source:- Subhadeep Paul Quora, Eurasian Times