In an official statement, the IAF said, “An Indian Air Force contingent will be departing tomorrow for France to participate in Exercise Orion at Mont-de-Marsan. The exercise will be conducted from April 17 to May 5 with the IAF contingent comprising four Rafale jets, two C-17, two ll-78 aircraft and 165 air warriors.
“Participation in this exercise would further enrich the employment philosophy of the India Air Force, by imbibing the best practices from other Air Forces,” the statement added.
Exercise Orion 2023 is France’s biggest, in which its friendly foreign nations participate, India included, apart from NATO allies.
Four of the omni-role Rafale have flown to French Air and Space Force (FASF) Mont-de-Marsan air base from India as part of the IAF’s contingent to join ‘Exercise Orion 2023’ alongside air force contingents from the United States, United Kingdom, and a host of other NATO nations, namely Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherland, and Spain.
All previous bilateral and multilateral wargames over the last 15 years have only witnessed Sukhoi combat aircraft’s participation from India’s side. The decision to send the Rafales to France for the wargames signals a shift in India’s combat jets line-up against archrivals China and Pakistan.
Trajectory of Rafale and Indian Air Force:
India had ordered 36 of the 4.5-generation fighters from France in 2016 for nearly US$8 billion after Prime Minister Narendra Modi had, in 2015, canceled a tender for 126 combat planes in which French company Dassault Aviation’s Rafale had emerged as the winner in January 2012.
The likely contract award had stalled for over three years before Modi intervened to scrap the potential deal and shrunk the order from 126 to 36 in an emergency buy due to operational requirements of the Indian Air Force.
India received the first set of Rafales at its home air base in Ambala in India’s northern state of Haryana in October 2019. The jets got inducted into a squadron of the IAF in September 2020.
In 2022, France’s Dassault Aviation completed the delivery of all 36 Rafale combat jets.
The French-origin nuke-delivery platform has emerged as the South Asian giant’s true “frontline” fighter replacing the Russian-origin Su-30MKIs.
Even during the February 2019 air strikes carried out by India on Balakot in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in retaliation to the terror strike in Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir, India had used the Su-30MKI only in a support role as a diversion to draw out the Pakistan Air Force’s Lockheed Martin F-16s while the main attack was carried out by Rafale’s Dassault Aviation-made sister combat jet, the nuke-capable Mirage-2000.
During the ongoing military conflict against China in eastern Ladakh since April 2020, India deployed its Rafale jets to carry out patrol missions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), testing the aircraft’s capabilities for the first time in an operational situation for the IAF.
Among the seven types of combat aircraft in the IAF’s inventory, only Mirage-2000, Su-30MKI, and Rafale are capable of delivering a nuclear weapon and are a key element of the nuclear triad that India enjoys to give credibility to its second-strike capability under its 2003 nuclear doctrine.