IAF has been using fighter jets made by Dassault, a French company since 1953. It deployed Mirage 2000 to drop laser-guided bombs during Kargil war.
New Delhi: As the Rafale deal comes under intense political scrutiny, history tells us that the Indian Air Force (IAF) has never been without a Dassault aircraft since 1953.
A look at some of the IAF’s flagship fighter planes over the years suggests that Dassault Aviation has been a mainstay manufacturer since early 1950s.
A ‘toofani’ start
India started purchasing Dassault’s aircraft in 1953 when the IAF decided to induct MD Ouragan 450 in its fleet. After Independence, India had bought the British fighter Vampire from the leftover sterling credit. However, the need for a more advanced jet fighter was acutely felt, which led to the decision to purchase Ouragan. India initially placed an order for 71 Ouragans but later raised it to 113.
For the next decade or so, this aircraft, also known as Typhoon or Toofani, became the quintessential IAF fighter jet in every Indian’s imagination. In the famous 1964 movie Sangam, Raj Kapoor was shown flying an Ouragan which etched that image in public memory.
The plane acquired prominence in Pakistan’s history as well when an Indian Ouragan conducting a reconnaissance mission was captured by Pakistani forces during a border skirmish at Kutch in 1965.
Devaiah’s ‘Mystere’ mystery
By this time, however, Ouragan had become outdated and was beginning to be replaced by more advanced aircraft.
One of them was the multi-role fighter Mystere IVa, which was also manufactured by Dassault. A total of 104 Mystere IVa’s were purchased in 1957 and were extensively used during 1965 and 1971 wars with Pakistan. The plane remained in active duty until 1973.
During the 1965 war, Squadron Leader A.B. Devaiah was sent on a mission to attack Sargodha airbase in Pakistan. However, his plane was intercepted and damaged by an F-104 fighter being operated by Pakistani Flight Lieutenant Amjad Hussain. Despite taking a hit, Devaiah managed to counter-attack and shot down the F-104 whose pilot managed to eject in time.
It was initially believed that Hussain’s plane crashed after getting entangled in the debris of Devaiah’s plane and it took some time before the latter’s heroics were recognised. IAF learnt about it in 1971 when Hussain was taken as a POW by the Indian forces. Later, the account was recounted in a book, Battle for Pakistan by John Fricker. Devaiah was posthumously awarded a Maha Vir Chakra in 1988.
Kargil’s French connection
The relationship between IAF and Dassault continued when India decided to purchase Mirage 2000 in 1982. During the 1999 Kargil war, IAF used this aircraft to drop laser-guided bombs on enemy positions.
Dassault isn’t the only French company from whom India has purchased fighter jets. The Morarji Desai government had acquired Jaguar, made by French-British company SEPECAT, in 1979.