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IAF arsenal gets key boosts in 3 years after Balakot airstrikes

Source : Hindustan Times

IAF arsenal gets key boosts in 3 years after Balakot airstrikes
Indian Air Force's newly inducted Dassault Rafale fighter jet (IAF File Photo)

The Indian Air Force has strengthened its combat potential significantly since the bombing of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) targets in Pakistan’s Balakot exactly three years ago, with the induction of Rafale jets armed with potent beyond visual range (BVR) missiles, S-400 Triumf air defence missile systems, a medium range surface-to-air-missile (MRSAM) system and smart air-to-ground weapons, people familiar with the matter said on Friday.

“The Rafale along with its Meteor BVR air-to-air missile and the S-400 systems represent a significant capability enhancement. If we had Rafales then, the Pakistan Air Force wouldn’t have dared to launch its fighter jets a day after the Balakot air strikes,” said a senior official, who asked not to be named.

India’s unprecedented, peacetime cross-border airstrikes came on the back of the February 14, 2019, Pulwama terror attack in which 40 Central Reserve Police force (CRPF) men were killed.

On February 26, 2019, IAF’s Mirage 2000s hit three targets in Balakot with five Israeli-origin Spice 2000 bombs with penetrator warheads that allowed them to pierce through the rooftops before exploding inside to cause maximum damage.

There has been no major Pakistan-sponsored terror attack on Indian soil during the last three years, said a second official, who also asked not to be named. “The Balakot strikes served their purpose. Pakistan has realised that India has the will and capability to hit back hard,” he added.

Pakistan Air Force fighters made a failed attempt to bomb Indian military installations on February 27, 2019, leading to an aerial engagement along the Line of Control during which Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman scripted military aviation history by downing an F-16, seconds before his own MiG-21 Bison was hit by a missile forcing him to eject. He was captured after he bailed out of his aircraft, but Pakistan returned him to India on March 1 after holding him captive for almost 60 hours. He was later awarded the Vir Chakra, India’s third-highest wartime gallantry award.

“With the induction of Meteor-armed Rafales, the BVR advantage has been restored. The other weapon systems that have been inducted over the last three years have led to a quantum jump in capability,” said Air Marshal Anil Chopra (retd), director general, Centre for Air Power Studies.

India's S-400 Defence Shield

“The Balakot targeting was fantastic and it couldn’t have been better. What happened a day after Balakot could have been prevented if we had Rafales then. But as we have only 36 Rafales, we can’t make sure they are everywhere. We need more numbers,” said a retired three-star IAF officer, asking not to be named.

IAF has armed the Rafale fighter jets with an all-weather smart weapon of French origin called Hammer (Highly Agile Modular Munition Extended Range). It can engage ground targets from a standoff range of up to 60 km.

The platforms inducted after the Balakot raid include AH-64E Apache attack helicopters and CH-47F (I) Chinook multi-mission helicopters. To be sure, these acquisitions were planned years before the Balakot airstrikes.

Indian Air Force MR-SAM (Barak-8) induction ceremony

Last September, IAF inducted an MRSAM system capable of knocking out aerial threats such as enemy fighter jets, missiles, helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles at a range of 70 km. India and Israel have jointly developed MRSAM or the Barak 8 air defence system.

IAF has also begun the induction of S-400 missile systems that are capable of destroying jets and missiles at a range of 400 km.

Last year, then IAF chief Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria flew in a multi-aircraft formation to mark the second anniversary of the Balakot operations. The five-aircraft formation consisted of Mirage 2000s and Sukhoi-30 fighters. While the actual bombing was carried out by the Mirages, Su-30s were part of the IAF’s strike package that day.

Each bomb that hit the JeM targets carried around 80 kg of explosives in a 900-kg steel casing, with the explosion caused by time-delay fuses sending a lethal quantity of shrapnel that instantly killed the occupants. The bombs hit their targets in a vertical attack angle, leaving holes measuring 80 to 90 cm in diameter on the rooftops of the structures, as previously reported by Hindustan Times.

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