Rafale-ly speaking…

The Hellenic Air Force will begin operating its new (to them) French-made Dassault Rafale fighters after January 19 when a half-dozen aircraft are expected to arrive home at their Tanágra Air Force Base. Two dual-seat Rafales will be joined by four single-seat Rafales for the ferry flight home this week. Ultimately 18 Rafales, at a cost of $2.35B (US), will augment advanced F-16C/D Blk52s, as well as older Mirage 2000-5 models, and fill the gap left with the looming retirement of the country’s last 33 elderly F-4E Phantoms.

The first Rafale of the Hellenic Air Force (HAF) was formally delivered last July. This is one of the 12 refurbished ex-French Air Force Rafale B models configured to the latest F3R standard, that will be delivered to the HAF along with six newbuild fighters by 2023. (Photo: Dassault Aviation/C Cosmao)

The Greeks really like Dassault, having a nearly 50-year relationship with the company that includes ordering 40 Mirage F1s in 1974, then 40 Mirage 2000s in 1985, and finally 15 Mirage 2000-5s in the year 2000.

More Rafales on more carriers?

Speaking of Rafales, the Indian Navy is testing the Rafale M (carrier variant F3-R) at their ashore jump ramp facility in Goa with an eye to buying at least two dozen of the little fighters for use from the country’s new STOBAR indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC), INS Vikrant, set to commission later this year.

Keep in mind that the Indian Navy has had 60 years of continuous fixed-wing carrier operations under their belt, including combat use. 

Rafael M calendar illustration

Odds are, as many as 100 Rafale Ms could be bought if the price is right, with the French birds replacing cranky Russian-made MiG-29K fighters already in use on India’s equally cranky 45,000-ton Gorshkov-class flattop, INS Vikramaditya, and providing squadrons for the new Vikrant and planned follow-on INS Vishal, the latter ship expected in the 2030s. Each of the new carriers is to be capable of holding 36 fixed-wing fighters in addition to ASW helicopters and liaison aircraft.

The Indian Navy has 45 MiG-29KUB carrier-based multirole fighters and was looking to acquire 57 more, with the possibility of building them locally, but that is increasingly unlikely. Plan A right now seems to be fielding variants of the F/A-18E or the French Rafale M instead.

The Indians are also looking at the larger F-18E/F Super Hornet, but, as the IAF already ordered 36 Rafale B/Cs and are standing them up in two operational squadrons this year, don’t hold your breath. However, as the Indians are buying 22 MH-60Rs from Sikorsky, with the blessing of the USN, for ASW use, anything is possible.

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