The Rafale aircraft will give India a strategic advantage in case of any aerial combat with China in the mountainous Tibet region as the fleet will be able to use the terrain to its advantage, destroy enemy air defence and incapacitate the surface-to-air missiles, former Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal (retd) BS Dhanoa said on Sunday.
Mr Dhanoa, known as the architect of the Balakot strikes, said the Rafale jets along with S-400 missile systems will give the Indian Air Force a major combat edge in the entire region and that India's adversaries will think twice before starting a war.
In case of Pakistan, he said the purpose of the S-400 and Rafale is to hit Pakistani aircraft inside Pakistani air space and not when they come inside Indian territory, adding the neighbouring country would not have responded on February 27 last year to the Balakot air strikes if India had the French-manufactured jets then.
In an interview to PTI, Mr Dhanoa said the Rafale, with its fantastic electronic warfare suite and maneuverability, will be able use mountainous terrain in Tibet to its advantage and blind the enemy before India's strike aircraft penetrate hostile airspace to carry out their missions
The former Chief of Air Staff also said that the Rafales being supplied to the IAF are much more advanced than the ones being used by the French Air Force as India had asked for something "more" due to requirement to operate in unique conditions like operations from Leh.
Five Rafale jets out of 36 arrived India last week at a time India is in the midst of a bitter border row with China in the high altitude eastern Ladakh region.
"Rafale has got a fantastic Electronic Warfare (EW) suite (SPECTRA), fantastic weapons and therefore are capable of protecting themselves electronically besides being able to use the terrain to their advantage," Mr Dhanoa said.
"So they (Rafales) can play an important role in doing DEAD (Destruction of Enemy Air Defence) on the Surface-to-Air Missiles that the Chinese have put on Tibet.
"Once you take out those surface to air missiles then other aircraft like Su30, Jaguars, even Mig 21s can go out and drop the bombs on the Chinese forces. The strike aircraft carrying bombs can put tonnes and tonnes of bombs on the enemy troops, freely carrying out their mission. But if you do not do DEAD then you will suffer a lot of casualties," he said.
The leading air forces globally carry out Suppression of Enemy Air Defence (SEAD) or DEAD using their top of the line aircraft or weapons before launching any major operation in hostile territories.
"Against China there are big Himalayan mountains in between us which create serious line of sight issues. You can put a missile with a range of 300-400 kms on the ground in Tibet or in India. But it will only work within the line of sight," he said.
He said the Rafales, with terrain following capability, will give India a major capability enhancement.
"In air combat, the first thing that is important is information dominance, you get information and deny the enemy the information. The key role the Rafales will play in Tibet is information dominance and in case of Pakistan, it is a major deterrent. Of course there will be other roles too," he said.