Rafale M vs F/A-18: who will ‘fly’ with India’s INS Vikrant

NEW DELHI ($1=79.43 Indian Rupees) — After the decommissioning of INS Viraat, in 2017, the Indian Navy’s naval air capabilities relied solely on the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, commissioned in 2013 after being acquired by Russia [under the name Admiral Gorchkov] and refitted, not without difficulty, from the Indian naval industry.

F/A-18E SH, Rafale and MiG-29 begin their battle for the Indian Navy
Photo credit: Wikimedia

However, as of 28 July, the Indian Navy once again has two aircraft carriers, with INS Vikrant being officially handed over to the Indian Navy by the Indian group Cochin Shipyard Limited. According to the Indian press, the cost of this ship is about 2.8 billion euros [$2.85 billion]

It is recalled that INS Vikrant is the first aircraft carrier designed by India. The project began in 2009, with construction going through dozens of problems, obstacles, and hazards. It was originally supposed to be delivered in late 2010. That deadline had to be pushed back due to delivery failures of specific equipment ordered from Russia [while 75% of its components are of Indian origin – ed] and Covid-related health measures 19 pandemic.

With a displacement of approximately 40,000 tonnes with a length of 262 meters and a beam of 60 meters, INS Vikrant is in STOBAR configuration ie. it is equipped with a springboard to allow its carrier planes to take off. Powered by four General Electric LM2500+ gas turbines allowing it to reach a top speed of 28 knots [18 knots at cruising speed], it can carry around thirty aircraft, including 26 MiG-29K fighters.

However, and with the hope of having a third aircraft carrier in CATOBAR configuration [with catapults and restraints] in the future and the MiG-29K not satisfying it, the Indian Navy is looking for another carrier-based fighter-bomber compatible with the INS cockpit Vikrant. Hence the assessments of Dassault Aviation’s Rafale M and Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet, at the INS Hansa Naval Base in Goa.

F/A-18E SH, Rafale and MiG-29 begin their battle for the Indian Navy
Photo credit: Wikipedia

The challenge was to verify that these two types of aircraft could take off, in different configurations, on runways equipped with a springboard. If Dassault Aviation played the discretion card when the Rafale M was evaluated last January, Boeing did not hesitate to announce the introduction of the F /A-18 Super Hornet.

Now it remains for the Indian Navy to make its choice. Each bid has its own strengths and weaknesses… Thus, the fact that the Indian Air Force has 36 Rafale B/Cs could be an advantage, particularly for maintenance in operational condition [MCO], spare parts supply, and training.

On the other hand, the F/A-18 Super Hornet is equipped with General Electric F404 engines, which belong to the same family as that which powers the HAL Tejas, the Indian fighter jet. But as often in this kind of business, political aspects will take precedence over technical considerations.

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