As a major surprise for many aviation enthusiasts, an Indian Air Force Rafale was spotted equipped with SCALP EG long range cruise missiles.
The photo was posted by a Twitter user “Hukum” and clicked near Yelahanka Air Force Station, situated in Bengaluru city. This airport also hosts Aero India, Asia’s largest air show that witnesses participation of major Domestic and International aerospace and defence companies.
The aircraft was supposedly carrying out rehearsal sorties for the event during which it was captured by plane spotters. The airframe seen carried ‘BS-004’ marking, flying with SCALP missiles installed on the underwing hardpoints. This is the also the first time an Indian Air Force Rafale F3R(I) was seen with this loadout.
MBDA SCALP EG, also known as Storm Shadow under British nomenclature, is a cruise missile that flies at a subsonic speed (Mach 0.6-0.8) and has terrain hugging capability, making it less observable in enemy radar and thus harder to intercept. With a range exceeding 500km, it is highly preferred for long-range strike missions capable of being launched from a standoff distance, without coming under direct fire of enemy air defence. With GPS and TERPROM inertial guidance system, and Imaging Infra-Red (IIR) in final/terminal attack phase, the missile is highly effective in destroying fortified positions, bunkers and multi-level buildings. If launched in swarms by many launch platforms, it is effective in disabling airfields and military bases.
This cruise missile is the highlight of the combat package arrived with 36 Rafale F3R(I)s ordered by India back in 2016. The other armaments are Meteor LR/MRAAM, MICA MR/SRAAM and AASM “Hammer” Precision Guided Munition (PGM).
Rafale is a French origin fighter aircraft inducted by the Indian Air Force in late 2020. The aircraft is an Indian specific variant of F3R standard, and is equipped with RBE-2AA AESA radar (detection range of 250km and beyond for 5m2 RCS targets). The integrated SPECTRA EW suite is one of the main highlights of the system that provides enhanced survivability to the platform. Soon after the induction, few units of the aircraft were dispatched to familiarize with high altitude region of Ladakh, that was also disturbed due to diplomatic tensions between China and India.
The aircraft is claimed to be a gamechanger for Indian Air Force and provides an edge over its adversaries in the region, specifically Pakistan with whom the latest air battle was fought in early 2019 that also resulted in the loss of a MiG-21 and an Mi-17 helicopter for the IAF, while PAF sustained one F-16 loss (marking the first ever air-to-air kill of an F-16 from a MiG-21). Since then, IAF worked on improving on various fields, specifically Beyond Visual Range combat for which Meteor is one of the most awaited weaponry.