Next month, the Indian Navy will receive two F-18 fighter jets from Boeing for flight testing at INS Hansa’s shore-based test facility in Goa in preparation for use as the main weapon on India’s new aircraft carrier, the INS Vikrant. The warship, still known as the indigenous aircraft carrier-1 (IAC-1), would be commissioned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on August 15, 2022, the 75th anniversary of India’s independence.
Flight testing of the F-18 carrier capable fighter on the replica 928 feet deck of India’s sole aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya are scheduled around May 21, according to information available from New Delhi and Washington. The availability of mid-air refuelling tankers with Boeing to carry the F-18s to Goa may affect this date.
While the INS Vikramaditya will shortly return to duty after a year of refurbishment and maintenance, the IAC-1 or INS Vikrant is undergoing extensive sea trials and will return to service later this year with MiG-29K fighters on board.
The Rafale-M, which was successfully tested by the Indian Navy in January at the same site in Goa, is the other fighter under consideration for the INS Vikrant and Vikramaditya. The Indian Navy is planning to buy 26 fighters on a government-to-government basis, as the indigenous twin-engine deck-based fighter designed by ADA could be ready for trials by the end of the decade.
With China building its third aircraft carrier on its own, India, together with the other QUAD partners, will need at least two aircraft carriers to project supremacy in the Indo-Pacific. The Indian aim is to station one carrier group on each coast, with a forward deployment capabilities in the Andamans and Nicobar Islands.
With its wings folded, the extremely competent and flexible F-18 Super Hornet can fit into both elevators of IAC-1. Unlike Rafale-M two-seaters, which can only operate from shore-based facilities and thus lose one-third of their combat potential, a maximum of eight two-seater F-18 fighters can launch from the decks of both Vikrant and Vikramaditya.
This means that, while F-18 twin-seater aircraft can be launched from a carrier deck during combat, Rafale-M twin-seater jets can only be launched from the ground.
Although both the F/A-18 Hornet and the Rafale-M fighter can carry enormous weapon loads, long-range air to air missiles, and air to ground weaponry, the F/A-18 Hornet can carry up to four anti-submarine missiles, whilst the Rafale-M fighter can only carry one.
Both are proven 4.5 generation fighters, with the F-18 having a long history of battle on both the high seas and on land.