With the fourth largest air force in the world, India's armed aviators have been a long-standing obsession for the country. Even Defence Minister Rajnath Singh took to the skies earlier this morning to become the country's first Defence Minister to fly HAL's single-engine, multirole light fighter aircraft - the Tejas.
Tejas, however, is just one craft from India's arsenal of capable, deadly and well-historied attack crafts. Here's a lowdown on seven of the best fighter jets ever stationed in India's air force hangars, in no particular order:
1. Sukhoi Su-30 MKI ::
Forming the backbone of the Indian Air Force's (IAF) fleet of fighter aircrafts, this incredibly powerful, heavy-duty, long range fighter designed by the JSC Sukhoi Company and built under license by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), forms India's first line of defence.
Top Speed: 2,120km/h
Loaded Weight: 26,090kg
Number Built: 249 (As of May 2018)
Cost: Rs 358 Crore
With a weapon capacity of 8,130kg and 12 hardpoints to mount a variety of armaments, the Sukhoi is an incredibly capable craft. It even has the ability to carry a BrahMos cruise missile, which can carry armor-piercing missiles or even nuclear warheads. Here's what it looks like:
Now that's more than enough to ruin your morning.
2. HAL Tejas Mk1 ::
Light, agile and 100% homegrown, the Tejas Mk1 is a single-engine, single-seat multirole light fighter designed and built in partnership between HAL and Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) of India. Built to replace the IAF's ageing fleet of MiG-21 fighters, this aircraft took 20 years to develop before its introduction in 2015, and is designed to be as future-proof as possible.
Top Speed: 2,205km/h
Loaded Weight: 9,800kg
Number Built: 32+16 prototypes (As of March 2019)
Cost: Rs 162 Crore
Owing to its role as a flexible air superiority craft, Tejas is designed to be ultra-manoeuvrable and as lightweight as possible. This results in eight hardpoints to deploy a wide variety of weapons, from rocket pods to laser-guided bombs and even the all-weather, Astra air-to-air missile.
3. SEPECAT Jaguar 'Shamsher' ::
Although the Jaguars are quite outdated by modern standards, they've been stalwarts of the IAF ever since they landed on Indian runways in 1979. Designated as Shamsher units and updated with modern guidance and tracking systems by air force engineers, they're true combat veterans, having been used in the Kargil conflict as well as Sri Lankan reconnaissance missions.
Top Speed: 1,699km/h
Loaded Weight: 10,954kg
Number Built: 117
Cost: Rs. 57 Crore
Over thirty years of use have turned the Jaguar into a true multitasker. It's been able to handle reconnaissance, bomber and even long-distance maritime scouting roles - allowing it to hold a vast variety of weapons systems on its five hardpoints. Most iconic however, were its twin-mounted, 30mm calibre DEFA revolver cannons.
4. Dassault Mirage 2000 'Vajra' ::
Another veteran of the IAF, the Mirages entered our fleets in 1985 as a response to Pakistan's efforts to secure F-16 fighter jets from the United States. Named Vajra after the Sanskrit term for lightning, they proved their usefulness in the Kargil war alongside Jaguar units as the most advanced fighter jets of our fleet at that time.
Top Speed: 2,336km/h
Loaded Weight: 13,800kg
Number Built: 41
Cost: Rs 218 Crore
Despite their age, Mirages are well suited to refitting and upgrades, and are used for important missions even now. Earlier this February, the IAF deployed a squad of 12 Mirage aircraft to take out terrorist training camps within Pakistani borders, using Israeli-developed SPICE (Smart, Precise Impact, Cost-Effective) guided bombs.
5. Mikoyan MiG-29 ::
India was the first international customer of these twin-engined, multirole fighters - and for good reason. Versatile, fast and equipped with cutting-edge sensors and radar equipment, India has relied on the Russian MiG platform for over half a century to supplement IAF fleets - one of the world's foremost defence deals ever since the days of the Soviet Union.
Top Speed: 2,400km/h
Loaded Weight: 14,900kg
Number Built: 66
Cost: Rs 156 Crore
While the MiG 29 isn't the most modern of platforms, the IAF have upgraded it with a bevy of the latest avionics, Zhuk-ME Radar, engine and weapon control systems. It even has the ability to refuel mid-flight, greatly increasing its operational range.
6. Dassault Rafale ::
The one fighter that's been in the news more than any other - allegations of scams and controversy aside, this is easily the most expensive and kitted-out aircraft in the IAF's fleet. With custom helmet-mounted visors developed by Israel, quick-response systems and even a decoy system to thwart missile attacks, the Rafale is as good as it gets in the world of combat aviation.
Top Speed: 1,912km/h
Loaded Weight: 15,000kg
Number Built: 36 (on order)
Cost: Rs 781 Crore
The Rafale also comes equipped with some of the most powerful weapons you can mount on an aircraft - the SCALP precision ground attack missile and the best-in-class METEOR missile, capable of taking out air targets over a range of 100km, as standard. Here it is, pictured below.