India has approximately 300 Su-30MKI air superiority jets. They are custom built for India using Israeli electronics and avionics.

Pakistan doesn't even have air superiority jets.

Therefore, what is pushing India to purchase the Dassault Rafales?


1 Answer 1


Short version: India is looking for a new multirole aircraft to replace the older aircraft in its inventory; preferrably cheaper than Su-30MKI in day-to-day operations. It also looks for a new naval aircraft to outfit its new aircraft carrier with. Rafale fits both cases. It's not the only option, and the choice of Rafale specifically might be due to corruption but no concrete evidence was presented to this point.

Long version: First, I'd like to address the "Pakistan doesn't even have air superiority jets" point.

Much of special terminology is confusing to people unfamiliar with the sphere this terminology was developed for. For example, one might think that "air superiority jet" is, well, superior to other kinds of combat aircraft... which is not really the case.

The "air superiority fighter" term was coined in 1970s to define combat aircraft designed to be able to win both close range dogfights and long-range engagements. Other linked concepts are the "interceptor" - fast aircraft carrying long-range air-to-air missiles, and the "strike fighter" - aircraft mainly designed for air-to-air engagements, but also posessing air-to-ground capability. In reality, most modern combat aircraft combine all of these roles, and are mainly designated "multi-role"; for example, the Indian Su-30 can perform ground strikes as well as air-to-air combat; on the other hand, F-16 was originally designed as pure air-superiority jet, with strike capability added later in development.

To sum up the above argument - in general, all modern aircraft are really "multi-role". The aircraft operated by Pakistan, specifically, later-generation F-16s and newer Chinese aircraft like JF-17 and J-10C can roughly match the capabilities the Su-30 provides.

On another hand, while India-Pakistan conflict is the most... noisy, so to speak, India does have concerns with other bordering countries. In particular, a recently-reheated border conflict with China.

Thus, India does have opponents who could match their "air superiority fighters".

That said, the tender for new aircraft which led to the selection of Rafale was not concerned with air superiority, it was explicitly called "Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft competition". Initial RFIs were sent out for the following aircraft: Dassault Mirage 2000-5 Mk.2, Lockheed Martin F-16C/D, MiG-29OVT, and Saab JAS 39 Gripen. From this list and the time of requests, we can infer that India was looking to replace its aging fleet of strike aircraft, specifically MiG-27 and Jaguar; and it was looking for a lighter, cheaper-to-operate aircraft than the Su-30. Dassault then replaced the Mirage with Rafale in its bid, as the production lines for Mirage were already being closed down in preparation for the Rafale production (basically, Dassault said "we can keep producing Mirages specifically for you, but you need to pay now", and India was not ready to commit). Why exactly the Rafale was chosen over entries is subject to some discussion, but, as I understand, that is not the point of this question.

While that particular deal seems to be on hold, India now needs to outfit its new aircraft carrier with an air wing. While initially it was expected to operate the same MiG-29Ks as the other Indian carrier, Soviet-built Vikramaditya, since Vikrant posesses a catapult, it can launch heavier aircraft. Indigenous deck fighter project was judged to be too heavy for carrier operations in 2016, with new variant only expected to take flight in 2026. As a result, another Request for Information was sent out in 2017, this time to Boeing (for F/A-18E/F) and to Dassault (for Rafale-M).

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