What, Rafale as a nuclear delivery system?!

Indian Express first carried a story Sept 18, 2016 justifying the purchase of 36 Rafales announced in Paris by PM Narendra Modi  17 months earlier because of its supposedly strategic role as nuclear weapon delivery system, On Nov 27 instant, Economic Times in its Blogs carried a piece saying much the same thing — except it dealt, in the main, with the theme of the Rafale procurement process being “clumsy” without it being “corrupt”.

True, Rafale is tasked by the French Air Force for the N-role, but the distance it has to negotiate to Moscow isn’t relatively much, being the same that Mirage V was meant to do on a one-way suicide mission because that’s all its range permitted at a time in the mid- to late 1960s when France had little else to make its  ‘force de frappe’ credible. Rafale is different in that it has the range to go to Moscow and back and in European conditions may be considered “strategic”, but it cannot be so labeled in Indian conditions unless all that the Modi govt has in mind for its use is Pakistan because, for certain, it can perform no useful strategic function against China.

But was the Rafale buy at the unit cost of some $250 million — clean i.e., w/o any weapon — merited just for N-delivery against Pakistani targets when the IAF has the Jaguar low level strike aircraft for this job, and the Su-30MKI, which with aerial tankers and buddy refuelers for the last leg,  for strategic nuclear bombardment deep inside China?

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The Su-30MKI — a medium range air superiority/air dominance combat aircraft, I have long argued is not a genuine answer for long range nuclear targeting, whence the desperate need for a genuine high-alt strategic bomber, the Tu-160 Blackjack, that the Russians were always ready to lease to India, as a manned recall-able option in the triad. It was a case I had made to CAS  Charley Browne some years back in person and retailed in ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet). Browne shot it down saying that while lease costs were fine, the operating costs were too high and would be a drain on IAF’s resources. (For the cost figures, etc. refer above book.) But a Rafale carrying N-weapons is economical? This is an example of short-sighted financial  resources management.

The nuclear role conjured up for the Rafale, it’d appear, was an afterthought that some not so bright denizen of the PMO thought up and purveyed through the media, because of the flak Modi was receiving for the hasty, ill thought-out Rafale deal.

The fact is Rafale may barely survive the AD environment over Pakistan. Across Tibet, it is a dead duck, and will have even less chance anywhere deeper in China mainland where the layered AD defence is so intense the US Air Force feels it will have to deploy its full might of the B-2s to register success.

And even then, it will not do much good. Because China PLAAF now has operational a few photonic or quantum radars — with these replacing the older surveillance, tracking, and targeting radars in layers doing frontline duty.   Incidentally, Russia and China have a massive lead in quantum hardware — communications, radars, etc. over the US, and the word is out that the US’ latest lemon F-35, inclusive of its on-board radar, is already defunct because it has been mapped out by the Russian and Chinese photonic radar. Wonder, if that’s the reason why the US is growingly keen about selling the completely useless F-35 to the IAF and has confidence the Indian govt can be prevailed upon to buy it. So much for India’s reputation for buying junk.

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Quantum radars, in any case, means definite death for so-called stealth aircraft. In any case, stealth is a mis-used word because even without quantum radars, the stealthiest of the present day aircraft can be easily detected by low frequency radars — the old World War Two kind!

And finally if Rafale is actually being considered as a nuclear delivery platform, what’s the talk that IAF is exploring acquiring a handful of the latest version of the Backfire Tu-22M3 from Russia — which makes more sense than Rafale but is not as good an option as the Tu-160 — all about?





Source:- Bharat Karnad

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