Air Force Day 2021: A Look at IAF’s Mighty Fighter Jet Fleet- Rafale, Sukhoi, and More On Air Force Day 2021, here’s a list of all the active fighter jets used by the Indian Air Force, from Sukhoi Su-30MKI to the Tejas LCA and now, the Rafale.
As today is the Indian Air Force Day, we take a throwback to the Independence Day of last year, in 2020, when the first batch of long-awaited five Rafale fighter jets arrived in India and was inducted at the Indian Air Force’s Ambala airbase. The fighter jets, manufactured by France-based Dassault Aviation, are twin-engine multi-role fighter aircraft and are nuclear-capable and can engage in both air-to-air and air-to-ground attacks. With the arrival of the Rafale, the IAF’s firepower increased multifold.
So as India celebrates Air Force Day, we look at all the active fighter jets used by the Indian Air Force, from Sukhoi Su-30MKI to the Tejas LCA and also, the Rafale.
India had signed an inter-governmental agreement with France in September 2016 for the procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets at a cost of around Rs 58,000 crore. The aircraft is capable of carrying a range of potent weapons and missiles and the first squadron of the aircraft will be deployed at Ambala air force station, considered one of the most strategically located bases of the IAF. The Indo-Pak border is around 220 km from there. The second squadron of Rafale will be stationed at Hasimara base in West Bengal. The Rafale is a modern fighter jet known for its agility, speed, weapon holding capacity, and attack capability. The Dassault Rafale has a delta wing design and is capable of g-forces as high as 11g (in case of emergency). The Rafale is available in both single and dual seating cabins (India ordered 28 single and 8 dual seaters Rafale)
The Mirage-2000 is undoubtedly one of the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) most versatile and deadliest aircraft and it was first commissioned in 1985. Soon after inducting the Mirage, IAF gave it the name – Vajra – meaning lightning thunderbolt in Sanskrit. The Mirage-2000 is developed by Dassault Aviation and took its first flight in 1978 and was inducted into the French Air Force in 1984. India placed an initial order of 36 single-seater Mirage-2000 and 4 twin-seater Mirage 2000 in 1982 as an answer to Pakistan buying the US-made F-16 fighter jets by Lockheed Martin. The Mirage-2000 played a decisive role in the 1999 war of Kargil and seeing the success of the jets, the government in India placed an additional order of 10 Mirage-2000 planes in 2004, taking the total tally to 50 jets.
India has long borrowed its fighter jets from countries like Russia, France, and Britain under a license agreement to manufacture them locally by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. However, back in the 1980s, the HAL started the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) program to replace the aging Soviet-sourced MiG-21. With India’s former Prime Minister giving the LCA its name – Tejas – the 1st indigenously built fighter aircraft was inducted in the Indian Air Force with the IAF placing a 20 jet order initially and the 1st Tejas Squadron was formed in 2016 called the Flying Daggers. Till now IAF has placed an order of 40 Tejas Mk 1, including 32 single-seat aircraft and eight twin-seat trainers. IAF has also initiated procurement of a further 73 single-seat fighters in Mk 1A configuration.
The first supersonic jet aircraft in aviation history, the MiG 21 is one of the most known fighter jets on Earth. Having served 60 countries over a course of 60 years, the MiG 21 is still in service in many countries, including India. In 1961, IAF opted for the Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau made MiG 21 and since then has bought more than 250 estimated units of these incredibly competent planes. While the 21s played a pivotal role in the 1971 India Pakistan War, they are currently being used only as Interceptors with a limited role as fighter jets and IAF will soon replace the remaining units of the MiG21 Bison with the Tejas LCA. The MiG 21 has a single-seater cockpit with a maximum speed of 1.05 match (1300 kmph).
The Sukhoi Su-30MKI is the most advanced fighter jet in operation with the Indian Air Force and is the primary air to air and air to ground strike machine. Also known as Flanker (NATO), the Su-30 MKI is built in India by HAL under a license agreement with Russia’s Sukhoi. The Su-30MKI is exclusively used by India and there’s an estimate that IAF has 290 operational units of 30MKI till now. The first unit was inducted in 2002. The Sukhoi Su-30MKI has a top speed of Mach 2 (2120 kmph) and has a maximum takeoff weight of 38,800 kg. The jet can carry a wide range of equipment from radars to missiles, bombs, and even rockets.
The MiG 27 is again Soviet sourced ground-attack aircraft designed by Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau from the Soviet Union and manufactured by HAL under a license agreement. The MiG27 is known as ‘Bahadur’ (meaning Valiant in English) in India and the IAF retired the last 27 ML squadron in 2017. India is only among a handful of countries that still operates the updated MiG-27 UPG ground attack aircraft. The 27s are based on the MiG23 with a redesigned nose and flies at low altitudes.
The SEPECAT Jaguar is a fighter jet developed together by British Royal Air Force and French Air Force. Only the Indian Air Force is currently using the upgraded Jaguar in active duty. The SEPECAT Jaguar is known as Shamsher and serves IAF as the primary ground attack aircraft. Indian Jaguar is quite different from the RAF’s Jaguar and is built locally by HAL under a license agreement. IAF recently upgraded its entire fleet of Jaguars by adding Avionics support. The only problem with the Jaguar is its inability to fly at high altitudes with a heavy load on board.
Last, on our list is another Soviet Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau produced MiG called the MiG 29. Introduced in the 1970s to counter U.S. F-Series planes like F-15 and F-16 the MiG29 is known as Baaz (Hindi for Hawk) and forms the second line of defence after the Sukhoi Su-30MKI. The MiG-29 is exported to more than 30 nations, India being the first and one of the largest exporters of this jet. The IAF currently uses the upgraded MiG-29 UPG, the most advanced MiG-29 variant ever. The MiG29 was used extensively during the Kargil War by the Indian Air Force to provide escort for Mirage-2000 attacking targets with laser-guided bombs.
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