In the midst of great fanfare, the Indian Air force inducted five French-made Rafales into its inventory. These are the first five of a batch of 36 Rafale fighters purchased by New Delhi in a controversial multibillion-dollar deal. The planes are inducted over the longstanding demand of the IAF to diversify its inventory. The Rafales landed at the airbase at Ambala for rapid deployment amid rising tensions with China. The big question, however, is, if five Rafales change the strategic balance in India’s favor?
The answer is a big no! When comparing the Rafale with the J-20, there frankly is not much of a comparison. Acording to Global Times, Chinese expertsinsisted that the Rafale is only a third-plus generation fighter, and does not stand much of a chance against a stealth fifth-generation fighter like the J-20. The J-20 is a complete 5th Generation stealth fighter while the Rafale only has some stealth features. At most the Rafale is a 4th Generation Fighter and no doubt it would breathe new life into the IAF, but India already has Su-30s which are 4th generation too. It is not that the 4th Generation fighter is a new thing for the IAF. If so, then why all the fanfare?
India’s top twitter trend since the 29th of July was all about Rafales. Hashtags like RafaleInIndia, RafalepowersIndia, and the likes were trending in the Indian social media circles. The ruling BJP took full credit over the landings and India’s mainstream media gave the jets a red-carpet welcome, televising their whole 7000 Km journey from Bordeaux, France. Such a welcome is unparalleled in aviation history, as if a Messiah has arrived. Not to mention, Rafale is a French Made Fighter, and since when have imported products become a source of national pride?
The “Rafale obsession” can rightly be explained by the phenomena of “Delusions of Grandeur” which unfortunately has gripped India thanks to its mainstream populist media. India is the 2nd largest population and with its great human resource it is no-doubt poised to be one of the major players in global politics. But it is too soon to consider itself as a regional power, let alone a global one.
The “Rafale obsession” also plays well with the ruling BJP. Clearly, in the recent tensions along the LAC, India woke up to a vigilant and vibrant PLA on its borders, something that New Delhi did not expect. At least not under the current increased US maximum pressure campaign. After the unfortunate death of 20 Indian soldiers, and the rising domestic pressure on the failure to control COVID-19 infections, the arrival of Rafales provided badly needed face-saving to the BJP leadership. But what is truly alarming is when the leadership can’t distinguish between myth and reality.
In a veiled threat to China, India’s Defense Minister Rajnath Singh on the arrival of the Rafales tweeted about the Rafales capability and how India’s neighbors should be worried. This is a very dangerous trend as it shows that even India’s top political leadership is having Delusions of Grandeur. It is very pertinent that the Indian leadership should be fully aware of its military capabilities otherwise there is a chance of gross miscalculation on their part. Overestimating military capabilities can lead to sudden unfounded confidence in one’s limited capabilities. In such circumstances it might be very easy to climb up the escalation ladder, only to realize later that the capabilities at hand are limited. The events of the 27th February 2019 serve as a stark reminder to the dilemma at hand.