NEW DELHI: India-based executives of Dassault Aviation, the French manufacturer of the Rafale fighter jet being procured by India in a euro 7.8 billion deal, have told India TV that they are not aware of Pakistani exchange pilots having been trained in France to fly the Rafales of the Qatar Air Force, the first of which was handed over in February.
The request for a clarification (also sent to Dassault’s corporate headquarters) comes after ainonline.com, an independent media firm which focuses on the aviation sector, reported that “the first batch of pilots trained for Qatar in November 2017 were Pakistani exchange officers.”
According to Jon Lake, the author of the piece, “Escadron de Chasse 04.030 was established at Mont-de-Marsan as the Qatar Rafale Squadron on Oct. 1, 2017.”
Qatar took the delivery of its first Rafale at Dassault’s Merignac facility on February 6. In a press statement, Dassault had said Qatar had signed up for 24 Rafale fighters in May 2015. In December 2017, it ordered an additional 12 fighters. The deal for the first 24 fighters is valued at euro 6.3 billion.
Pakistani military personnel have been deputed to operate with the armed forces of several Middle Eastern countries for decades. Pakistan has also received military hardware from partner nations including Jordan, which has supplied Islamabad with 13 additional F-16 A/B fighters, some of which may have been used by the Pakistan Air Force during its failed attack on Indian military targets along the Line of Control on February 27.
In January 2018, the Pakistani news portal www.thenews.com.pk reported the visit of the Commander of the Qatar Emiri Air Force to the Pakistan Air Force Headquarters in Islamabad. Pakistan’s Air Chief reportedly “offered support and cooperation in the field of aviation and military training” to his counterpart.
Pakistani pilots being exposed to the Rafale platform could be problematic for the Indian Air Force, which receives its first Rafale jets in September this year.
Though the Indian Air Force has heavily customised the jet it is acquiring with 14 “India-specific upgrades,” the heart of the aircraft remains its Thales built RBE-2 AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar. Qatari Rafales have received the same radar.
The RBE-2 allows pilots to accurately track and target multiple adversaries in the air, on the ground and out at sea. In being trained on the RBE-2, Pakistani pilots will know the precise ranges at which the system can be used by Indian Air Force pilots once its Rafales are operational.
“They would understand the various modes, the look up, look down, compatibility,” says Anshuman Mainkar, a former Indian Air Force MiG-27 pilot with more than a decade of experience in flying combat aircraft. “They will know how the weapon system works, and how resistant it is to being jammed.”
Similarly, both aircraft are equipped with a cutting edge defensive suite called SPECTRA (Systeme de Protection et d’Evitement des Conduites de Tir du Rafale ) which allows fighters on the Rafale to detect, identify and counter threats posed by enemy aircraft that may be targeting them. By understanding how SPECTRA works, and the limits of the system, Pakistani Air Force pilots will be in a position to evolve tactics to defeat the system.
By flying the Rafale, Pakistani Air Force pilots “would have understood how well it handles, how its systems work, and how they are integrated.” At the same time, Dassault needs to elaborate on the role of the exchange pilots, says Mainkar. “What were they there for? What was the purpose of the exchange?”
As significantly, both Qatari and Indian Air Force Rafales are equipped with the Meteor ultra long-range air-to-air missiles. This is one of the primary weapons of the jet and can be used to engage airborne targets more than 100 kilometres away. While it is unlikely that any Pakistani pilots have test-fired the Meteor, they would have been trained on the parameters within which the missile can be successfully launched to ensure a high hit-probability. This knowledge, if transferred to Pakistan Air Force pilots, would give them the opportunity to stay within a safe envelope to defeat the IAF’s Meteors.