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Did Indian Mig-29K Surprise French Rafale Jets in Recent Indo-French Defence Exercise?

How do Russian-built Indian Mig-29K compete against Frech Rafale Jets which India is set to procure? Recently, sixteen fighter jets, including eight Indian Navy MiG-29Ks and the same number of French Rafale-M fighter jets “clashed” over the Arabian Sea. Even though the Indian Navy did not disclose the scoreline, but did indicate that they were able to surprise the Frech Rafales.

All the fighter jets, which were split into two groups of eight each. One group was, characterised as the strike force who would attempt to hit a small island while a defensive force comprised of eight MiG and Rafales would attempt to intercept them at beyond visual ranges before they could fire their weapons.

Controlling each element was an airborne early warning aircraft, an E2-D, deployed off the French nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle and an Indian Navy Kamov Ka-31 helicopter which took off from the Indian aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya.

Both warships, the de Gaulle and the INS Vikramaditya were at the centre of the bilateral Varuna Naval exercises, which saw the biggest and most sophisticated deployment of Indian and French naval assets in the Indian Ocean featuring carriers, nuclear and conventional submarines, destroyers, frigates and support ships. Varuna 2019, which began with air combat exercises off the Karnataka coast, ended up with submarine warfare exercises off the Horn of Africa where the French Navy has a base.

Key to working together was developing common communication protocols meant to ensure that French and Indian Naval aviators can operate together during a conflict. However, basic operational differences remain. The electronic data-link onboard the Indian Navy’s MiG-29K is not compatible with what the French Rafales operate. As a result, all strategic communications between the French and Indian jets were done through verbal communications on the radio.

Navy officers did not reveal details of the air to air engagements between Indian Navy MiG-29Ks and the French Rafales. All of these exercises were done at beyond visual ranges of between 60 to 80 kilometres with the Indian Navy sharing that they were able to detect and engage the more-sophisticated Rafale fighter but score-lines were not provided to this correspondent.

The French Rafale fighter jets are key to India’s plans with the Indian Air Force set to receive the first few of its 36 Rafale jets in September 2019. Prior to that, the Indian Air Force will be sending its Sukhoi-30 fighters across to France in early July to participate in the Garuda series of air exercises between the two countries.

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