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The Indian Air Force (IAF) has had the French manufacturer re-calibrate the software of the SCALP long-range air-launched cruise missile of the Rafale fighter jet to ensure that the subsonic weapon hits targets up to 4,000 meters above sea level in the face of the prospect of an adversary on both the western and eastern fronts. The subsonic missile with a range of more than 300 kilometers and a warhead of 450 kilogrammes is part of the IAF’s Rafale Omni-role fighter suite of weapons.

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In simple terms, instead of the previous calibration of 2,000 meters, this means that the IAF’s Rafale can demolish targets located in mountains and high plateaus at 4,000 meters. The tweaking of the software was carried out in consultation with the IAF top brass by the missile manufacturer MBDA.

While the next batch of three Rafale fighters is expected to arrive after Republic Day 2021, there are plans that India’s close ally UAE air force will refuel the aircraft in mid-air using Airbus 330 multi-role transport tankers as they fly to Ambala airbase. As of now, seven Rafales are being used in France to train IAF pilots. By the end of 2021, a complete fleet of 36 aircraft is scheduled to reach India. One squadron of this powerful fighter will be based at Ambala, the other on the Siliguri Corridor at Hasimara Airbase.

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With a range of more than 100 kilometers, Rafale carries a Meteor beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile, the powerful SCALP or storm shadow cruise missile, and the Hammer precision-guided ammunition. The SCALP missile is used to target command, control, communications, air bases, ports, power stations, ammunition storage depots, surface ships, submarines, and other strategic high-value targets.

Although air-launched cruise missiles have been developed by both China and Pakistan, the SCALP is a unique weapon that has a fire-and-forget mechanism. Once launched from the fighter, to avoid detection by enemy radars and jamming systems, the cruise missile drops to a terrain-hugging position between 100 to 130 feet from the ground. The missile again goes up to a maximum height of 6,000 metres before approaching the target and then drops perpendicular to the high-value target. The primary charge first penetrates the target, then blows it to smithereens with the secondary charge.

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With the IAF having to defend both the fronts and the mountainous terrain on either side, in the worst-case scenario, airpower will play a very important role. The infantry, apart from the airborne special forces, will be used to defend both the Line of Control (LoC) and the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The range of the SCALP will be crucial in degrading the combat power of the enemy.