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Can Rafale Jets Change the Fate of Indian Air Force?


A comprehensive review of IAF’s checkered history, its numerical strength, and its fighting capability after the much-touted  RAFALE  jets are set to include in India’s ageing fleet.

By  Fahmidah Yousfi

The Indian Air Force is considered to be the fourth largest air force in the world. However, for the Indian armed forces it’s a bitter reality that the performance of the IAF has always been a question mark.

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According to the well-known Aviation Magazine, Flight International, the numerical strength of the Indian Air Force in 2020 is as follows:

Combat Aircraft



Jaguar M/S 130 130
MiG-21 132
MiG-27 42
MiG-29 66
Mirage 2000H/I 45 45
Rafale DH/EH 5 31
Su-30 242 8
Su-57/T-50 144
Tejas 16 99

Special Mission

707 (Recce) 1
737 (Recce) 2
ERJ-145 (AEW) 2
G100/1125 Astra (Recce) 2
Global 5000 (ELINT) 2
Gulfstream III (EW) 3
Il-76 (A50E) (AEW) 3 2


Il-78 17


An-32 104
C-17 11
C-130J 11 1
C295 56
Dornier 228 50 4
HS 748 57
Il-76 17
Saras Mk 2 15

Combat Helicopter

AH-64E 8 14
CH-47F 6 16
Dhruv ALH/Rudra 91 20
Ka-226 65

Light Combat Helicopter

Mi-17 223 48
Mi-24/25/35 15
Mi-26 1
SA315 17
SA316/319 77

Training Aircraft/Helicopters

Hawk 132 104 20
HTT-40 70
Jaguar T 30
Kiran (HJT-16) 78
MiG-23 14
Mirage 2000TH/T 12
PC-7 Mk II 75
II 75 Tejas 8

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The falling credibility of the IAF, unskilled pilots, and politics within the institution has always been Indian commentators’ special topic of discussion. The stain of IAF’s unprecedented rout at the hands of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) in an Aerial Combat in February last year is not likely to be removed by the inclusion of IAF Dassault Rafale jets.

But this was not the first time that the IAF had been trounced by a force three times smaller than its size; history tells us that the IAF has been defeated by Pakistan earlier as well.

In one of his articles, The Day Nothing Happened, India’s renowned defense analyst, Col, Ajay Shukla (retd), hit out at the Indian Air Force and wrote that A popular tale – apocryphal but grounded in truth – recounts an air force student at the National Defence College asking the librarian where he could find a book on the war history of the Indian Air Force (IAF). Without looking up, the librarian responded, “In the fiction section, Sir.”


So, What Exactly Happened In The 1965 war?

Even the IAF’s analysts confess that in the 1965 war, India was far superior to Pakistan in terms of the numerical strength. However, there’s no doubt in the fact that Indian pilots could not match the fighting prowess of their Pakistani counterparts. Some of the former pilots of the IAF also admit that India had a lot to learn from the 1965 war, but victory was not meant for them.

The 17-squadron force (which included 12 to 16 jets per squadron), was the best-trained in the 1965 war. This included the squadron of 104-star-fighters, which were the strongest jets of their time. Besides, the fleet also included 8 squadrons of F-86 series, highly reputed squadrons laden with B-5 bombers, and a PhotoRex aircraft in the RB-57 series which could fly at an altitude of 70,000 feet, beyond the reach of the Indian missiles.

On the contrary, the IAF had 48 squadrons which were 3 times the size of the PAF. Despite this huge difference, Pakistan enjoyed superiority to its arch-rival in terms of its training and ideology. Indian and Pakistani defence experts believe that India had fought the 1965 war on a piecemeal approach compared to the Pakistan Air Force’s extensive and organized strategy.

The Air War of 1965, Mr Fricker writes: “Incredibly, the Indian offensive struggled on without any form of air support, and the IAF did not challenge the repeated ground attack sorties flown without loss by the PAF throughout the day.” That evening, battered by the PAF and without a clear plan, Indian troops pulled back from the brink of a war-winning victory – the capture of Lahore.

 A look At What Occurred In Those Defining 5 Days Of History.

On 1st September, 1965, India conducted its first strike in Jhump near Jammu, in response to the Pakistani force’s attack. However, in a fatal blunder, it dropped 12 Vampire and 14 Meister fighter-bombs. Pakistan responded well, and downed 4 Vampires. Flabbergasted, the Indian Air Force grounded its another Vampire aircraft and stormy squadrons, further sagging its strength by one-third. According to Indian claims, on the 3rd of September, the IAF inflicted damage to Pakistan, but the reality is quite different from what they project.

On the 6th of September, however, Pakistan did what will continue to remind India—and the world—about the Pakistani pilots’ skill and dexterity. On that fateful day, the Pakistan Air Force destroyed India’s 10 fighter jets and inflicted harm to another 3 through several airstrikes near Pathankot.

Due to its back-to-back errors, the Indian Air Force destroyed its own 59 aircraft, while driving home the lesson that some wars are only fought with mere determination and passion. This is the same war when Pakistan Air Force’s little dragon, MM Alam, had plummeted to the ground India’s 5 fighter jets in less than 5 minutes. The incredible aerial feat of MM Alam amazes many listeners to date.

It appears as though the Indian Air Force hasn’t learnt any lesson from that terrible episode, and the many flaws in its existing force is a testament to this fact.

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According to the well-known Aviation Magazine, Flight International, the numerical strength of the Pakistan Air Force in 2020 is as follows:


Combat Aircraft



F-7 135
F-16A/C 45
JF-17 107 53
Mirage IIIEP/OF/RP 69
Mirage 5EF/F/PA 90

Special Mission

Falcon 20 (EW) 2
Saab 2000 (AEW) 4
Y-8 (AEW) 4


Il-78 4


C-130B/E/L-100 16
CN235 3
Saab 2000 6
Y-12 3

Combat Helicopter

AH-1F 1
AW139 12
Bell 205 5
Bell 412 1
Mi-171 6
SA330 1
SE3160 10

Training Aircraft/Helicopters

F-16B/D 31
FT-6 9
FT-7 7
K-8 36
MFI-395 120
Mirage IIIBE/D/DP 18
Mirage 5DPA2 2
SA316 8
T-37 30


So Rafale Is Really A Game Changer??

In reply to a question if the Indian Air Force could get an edge over the PAF with the arrival of IAF Dassault Rafale jets, the PAF’s former Air Chief Sohail Aman said that India was forced to get the Rafale jets because it had no solution to the existing Pakistani technology. The former Air Chief also said that regardless of what jets India might have, it still needed 10 years of additional hard work in order to reach the PAF’s valor and professional training.

He further said that the JF-17 Thunder and F-16 were now almost equal in terms of their capabilities and that the PAF’s pilots are more skilled and professional than their Indian counterparts, which makes it even easier for our air force to deal with their missile system.

Expressing his views on the matter, Air Vice Marshal (retd) Abid Rao said that the entire concept, planning, and technical layout of the JF-17 Thunder is designed by the PAF as per its needs. He said that the PAF was now moving towards the third generation of the aircraft. As for Indian Rafale, he said that no fighter jet is good or bad in itself; what’s important is that how that aircraft is used when needed, just as we did on the 27th of February, and the world once again approved of our defence prowess. “We jammed the radio by locking the air, and downed their jets and arrested Abhinandan,” he added.


What Makes JF 17 Thunder to Stand Out?

We also spoke to a Top Official of the PAF with regard to the JF-17 Thunder, who on the condition of anonymity, said that in air-to-air combat, SU 30 and Rafale jets have the same capability. As for the SU 30 jets, he said, that most of them have crashed due to some technical fault while some have been downed by the PAF. He added that the same principle applies to the capability of Rafale jets as well. The official said that the JF-17 Thunder jets far outstrip these two Indian planes in terms of flying performance and capability, and the world has acknowledged this fact.

There’s no doubt that a country’s Air Force is key to any nation’s defence capability, and the Pakistan Air Force is playing its major role in that regard. However, it’s also a fact that only numeral strength is not enough to win wars; passions and commitment also very important.

May the Almighty grant the Sentinels of Our Skies more strength and courage to protect our motherland from the wicked ambitions of our enemy.


About author

Rava Desk

Rava is an online news portal providing recent news, editorials, opinions and advice on day to day happenings in Pakistan.


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