Fighting for Air Superiority


ParametersDassault Rafale (India)F 16 (Pakistan)J 20 (China)
Country of OriginFranceUSAChina
Range3,700 km4220 km3000 km
Max Speed2130 km/h2414 km/h2223 km/h
Service Ceiling15,235 m15,000 m20,000 m
Rate of Climb18288 m/min15244m /min18240 m/min
Empty Weight10 ton9.2 ton19 ton
Fully loaded24.5 ton21.7 ton37.013 ton
Number of Weapon Points14 x hard points9 x hard pointsTwo Weapon Bays
RoleSome stealth features Multi roleMulti roleStealth multi role
RadarsActive electronically scanning array (AESA) [40 targets tracking range 100 km]AESA (20 targets tracking, range 120 km)AESA Not available but should be in similar range to F22.
Electronic warfareSPECTRAPassiveElectro optic sensors
Weapon Systems (Important ones)HAMMER SCALP METEOR EXOCET (Anti-Ship)AGM-45 Shrike, the AGM-78 Standard, and the Texas Instruments AGM-88 HARM.PL-15 BVR PL – 10 combat missiles Or external pylons to carry additional payloads  
No of EnginesTwin (better engine)SingleTwin (Su 30 Engine)

Who is Better?

  1. Rafales have an Edge. While on paper the J20 might appear better in some aspects such as being a 5th generation air craft with stealth capability, a deeper analysis will reveal an entirely different picture. The Rafale has an edge over the other two due to a number of reasons. First, it has a better engine, hence better rate of climb and reliability. These factors make it a better bird in a dog fight. Second, its radar has a better target tracking capability. It can track 40 targets as compared to lesser numbers by the others. Third, the SPECTRA gives the Rafale an edge over the others in the defensive capability to ward of an air to air missile attack. Fourth, its weapon systems are highly lethal and precise such as the HAMMER, SCALP and Meteor. HAMMER is ideally suited for High Altitude terrain of our Northern Borders in Ladakh and the North East. Fifth unlike the J20 which can undertake only one mission in one sorti, Rafale can undertake four missions in one sortie. This gives the Rafale a distinct edge over the others. Sixth, Rafale has better combat experience especially compared to J20.  The J20 is still untried and untested in combat. On the otherhand Rafale has seen action in Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. 

Picture of SPECTRA Decoys being Fired by Rafale

  • Shortcomings of Rafale visa vis J20s. Overall the shortcoming of Rafale in terms of less service ceiling as compared to J20 and the lack of Stealth capability is made up by better engine performance, rate of climb, electronic warfare capabiltiy, an undetectable passive radar sensor which is an extremely precise optical camera and a recognisance pod. The recognisance pod is a massive digital camera which can take photos at any speed with a precision of 10 cms. In fact as per Air Marshal Nambiar , the Stealth technology of J20 is not as good as it has been claimed by the Chinese.  It is due to this reason that the Chinese have gone in for procurement of SU 35 from the Russians. There are also reports that Rafales in joint military exercises with the US have detected the F22 stealth air crafts of the US. Since the the J20 is moddelled on F22, the chances of it being detected by the Rafales are very high. Even the Indian SU 30s have detected the J20. In short, J20 may not be what the Chinese claim it to be.
  • Shortcomings of Rafale visa vis F16. F16s have a distinct advantage in terms of smaller size, longer range and greater speed. However, the Rafales make up for this by having better quality twin engines providing it better reliablity and rate of climb. Rafales also enjoy a distinct advantage in quality and quantity of weapon loads. Combination of its radar capabilty, EW capability and better weapon systems increases its probability of outsmarting and out gunning the F16 in a dog fight.

Is it Enough to Win the War?

  • While the Rafales give us a distinct advantage, we are still short of the required numbers. The IAF has a sanctioned strength of 42 Squadrons. Unfortunately due to lack of forward movement in procurement of a MMRC, slow development of the indigenous air craft Tejas and the rapidly aging Mig 21 fleet our holding has been reduced to only 30 Squadrons. With the delivery of 36 Rafales we will have 32 Squadrons in the IAF. So while the Rafales give us a distinct qualitative edge but as on date with the present numbers are we in a position to deter the Chinese or Pakistanis especially in a collusive scenario? It is a difficult question to answer. Although we have validated our plans to defend the country and safeguard our territory by conducting Exercise Gaganshakti in 2018 with existing resources, it is a suboptimal solution and needs considerable time to exxecute especially in a two front scenario. Hence the IAF would be better assured of safeguarding the national interests, if its strength is built upto the sanctioned strength of 42 squardons. Till we make up our numbers we need to priortise our procurements in a manner that we do not fall short of air power in any future conflict. Aerospace power will be the most important battle winning factor in the future.

4 thoughts on “Fighting for Air Superiority

  1. Does your site have a contact page? I’m having trouble locating it but, I’d like to shoot you an email.
    I’ve got some ideas for your blog you might be interested in hearing.
    Either way, great website and I look forward to seeing it develop over time.

    asmr 0mniartist

  2. Wow, incredible blog layout! How long have you ever been blogging for?
    you made running a blog look easy. The full glance of your site is wonderful,
    as well as the content material!
    0mniartist asmr

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *