How India made a very wise decision by going for only 36 Rafales and not 126? ( What is afoot with the RBE2 AE radar of Rafale? )
Rafale was the winner of MMRCA for a reason. Among other qualities, it also had the first AESA radar developed in Europe. The detection range of RBE2 against Fighter Size targets ( RCS 3m2 ) is 200 km. And it is still Rafale F3 Standard.
French are already working on Rafale F4 Standard because France wants to fly Rafale competitively, well into the 2050s. Supply of 126 Rafales would easily have taken 7-8 years and India would have been saddled with a fighter jet whose advanced versions were already in the market.
Present Role of RBE2 AESA radar in BVR Engagement :
Angular coverage of present RBE2 AESA radar is 140◦ i.e. +/- 70◦ due to its fixed AESA plate. The radars with swashplate like the proposed Captor AESA radar of Eurofighter Typhoon have a wider angular coverage. So in beyond visual range warfare, let us assume Rafale launches a radar-homing missile on an enemy jet having swashplate. Rafale cannot maneuver more than 70◦ while the other plane can maneuver more than 90◦. Thus Rafale would be aiming its missile at a fighter jet flying perpendicular to Rafale or away from Rafale’s Beyond Visual Range missile, while the other plane can still provide a mid-course update to its own missile that is fired at Rafale.
Though MICAs and Meteors onboard Rafale can now be provided a mid-course update by buddy Rafale- the shooting rafale can easily move away after launching its BVR missile but still, a certain disadvantage is there vis-à-vis other 4++ generation fighters that have swishplate radars.
Future Upgrades of RBE2 AE radar :
“ Thales plans to develop a conformal AESA radar featuring ultra-thin, lightweight antennas and very fast data links that could greatly increase the integration of onboard system and permit them to fuse data and perform a host of new missions at an affordable cost. Among them are aircraft to aircraft networking, broadband communications, advanced jamming, network invasion, and electronic attack._ _ _ _ _
The ultimate aim is to develop a multipurpose conformal array with a shared common aperture that could be distributed all over the fuselage and wings without significantly affecting aircraft aerodynamics. This will take 10-12 years
_ _ _ _ _ An intermediate capability, featuring a centralized architecture with shared receivers but separate apertures could be achieved in 5-7 years. _ _ _ _ _
The availability of cooling and processor improvements needed to support a conformal array is compatible with this timeline _ _ _ _ _
Moreover, the new design will be based on a patented “ cloud transmit/receive module “ ( TRM ) approach that will allow novel technologies such as Gallium Nitride modules to be inserted without changing the overall radar architecture or requiring full requalification ” ( Pierre-Yves Chaltiel, Head of Electronics Combat Systems, in Aviation Week and Space Technology)
So this would mean increased angular coverage ( conformal arrays on fuselage or wings) and a greater detection range of aerial targets due to GaN T/R modules. Gallium Nitride modules are 5 times more powerful than GaAS T/R modules.
Thus if India plans to buy more Rafale even when intermediate upgrades have been done 5-7 years from now, it would be a much better proposition. And who knows DRDO might develop its own GaN T/R modules and conformal arrays by then. Considering the confidence that DRDO honchos exude in developing a 4++ aircraft within 3 years ( MK2) and Fifth Generation Fighter Jet (AMCA) by 2025, there was no way the indigenous aviation industry could be denied the opportunity to test its competence.