Indian civil and military leadership by default have always covered up their professional shortfalls against the non-availability of latest armament technology—especially after the deadly live demonstration of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) on February 27, 2019. PAF’s precision shooting standards across their field headquarters was fit enough for the Indian military’s top brass’s consumption lest they translate it otherwise.

‘Followed in Time’ is the story of an Indian pilot squadron leader, Abhinandan Varthaman, which constantly reminds them not to take that chance again. The Indian Air Force (IAF) has an aircraft inventory of different makes and types—mainly Mig-21 and 29, Jaguars, Mirage 2000, SU-30 and Tejas. Mig-21 has remained their mainstay for a fairly long time, but has failed to prove its worth; especially in the Indo-Pak scenario since its induction. Almost half of Mig-21 series possessed by IAF were lost in the last 50 years due to their malfunctioning and poor maintenance services. It was a great setback and a professional nightmare for the IAF to sustain such a big loss.

Fast forward to February 27, 2019, which consumed two Indian jet fighters and one helicopter in a classic professional fighting demonstration by PAF. The inadequacies of the IAF in their air superiority role led to the decision to acquire the latest in the list of multi-role fighters. Being mindful of these limitations, the IAF planners opted for western multi-role fighters. Rafale stood to the choice in spite of being cost intensive—$120 million per aircraft. Thirty-six Rafales are in line to be delivered to the IAF in a phased program, five of which have recently been handed over to them and stationed at Ambala airfield with a lot of fanfare.

Voices of corruption in this deal, through Modi’s business friend Anil Ambani, are already in the air. The Indian Supreme Court, when requested to interfere in this alleged corruption case, refused to entertain it, maintaining that national security concerns are the top priority. They set aside the case by stating that national security stands supreme and the rest can be managed in time thereafter. This interpretation merits consideration at our end too, by those who stand in hierarchy to decide.

Pakistan also has multiple types of fighting aircrafts—mainly old but upgraded Mirage series, a limited number of the versatile F-16, and the Chinese ‘F’ series in its inventory. With the induction of JF-17 Thunderbolt, a comparable aerial combat fighting strength has been achieved by the PAF, marginalizing the Rafale saga and nullifying its proclaimed game-changing effects to ground zero level. This contrast aside, the professional skill and expertise of the PAF pilots and its ground crew superimposed with battle-hardened experience in the prolonged war on terror, has really shaped it into a world-class fighting machine that is ever ready to respond befittingly.

PAF also has a 37-year flying association with F-16s and their testing during the Afghan war and inland war on terror. Similarly JF-17 has been operational for over a decade and is fully integrated with our ground-based systems. Rafale, on the contrary, shall still take a couple of years to get settled in the IAF inventory before it poses any worthwhile threats. Technically, F-16, with its world class reputation, and JF-17, with its range, avionics, up gradation flexibility and payload capacity, are at par with Rafale’s parameters—a force multiplier indeed. The Indian media’s hype in overselling Rafale’s impact is just for inland public consumption. Otherwise, the PAF has a more than compatible response if the showdown starts. Hopefully PM Modi will not choose to prove his opinion stating ‘with the Rafale, the results would have been different’. But if he decides to, the world shall see the repetition of February 27, up in skies again.