The competition to sell the Indian Navy a new aircraft carrier-based fighter jet is heating up. Boeing announced last week that two F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet warplanes would be deployed to an Indian Navy test station in Goa for flight trials.
According to the French news agency La Tribune, the French government has been considering selling four secondhand ‘Rafale Marine’ jets to the Indian Navy for “many months.” The Rafale Marine is a carrier-based version of the Rafale fighter, which is already in use by the Indian Air Force.
The Rafale Marine and Super Hornet are thought to be the front-runners for a contract to provide the Indian Navy with up to 57 jets. The aircraft carrier Vikrant, which is now undergoing sea trials, would be the primary base for these jets.
According to La Tribune, France was considering selling old Rafale Marine fighters to gain an advantage in bidding for a larger contract with the Indian Navy.
“The sale of four old Rafale Marines to the F3-R standard is anticipated to give France a competitive advantage over the Americans in the framework of the Indian call for tenders to equip the INS Vikrant,” according to La Tribune. These four recently upgraded gadgets might be deployed on the Indian aircraft carrier very fast.”.
The Rafale’s current production standard is the ‘F3-R.’ In addition to being outfitted with enhanced sensors and electronics, aircraft that meet the F3-R standard may launch the Meteor long-range air-to-air missile and use the Talios target acquisition pod.
The Rafale Marine, which is smaller in size than the Super Hornet, is perfectly suited to the Vikrant, according to the report. “… it can make use of the INS Vikrant’s elevators with ease.” This would not be the case for its American competitor, according to La Tribune.
India could opt to buy up to 26 new navy fighters by the end of the year, according to La Tribune. The story from La Tribune comes only days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to France.
When the Rafale’s design work began in the 1970s, it was envisioned as a single aircraft that would replace practically all of the French Air and Navy’s fighter aircraft at the time.
In 2004, the Rafale Marine was formally integrated into the French Navy. The Rafale Marine variant comes before the Rafale Air Force variant. The Rafale Marine is heavier than the Rafale because it has a reinforced undercarriage and nose wheel to deal with the impact of carrier take-offs and landings, as well as a stronger ‘arrester’ hook to grasp the wires that bring the aircraft to a halt on landing.
The Rafale Marine has some constraints due to its requirement to retain commonality with the air force model.
The Rafale Marine is only available in a single-seat configuration, whereas the Super Hornet comes in single- and two-seat configurations. The Rafale Marine also lacks the ability to fold its wings when on deck, which is a significant disadvantage considering the restricted space available on aircraft carriers. This is something that the Super Hornet is capable of.
Trials for ski jumps
Two Rafale Marine jets were dispatched to India in January for trials at the Goa location where the Super Hornet will be tested. The tests in Goa are being carried out to assess the two aircraft’s capabilities to operate from ski-jumps.
The Rafale Marine “took out very successful trials” in Goa, according to La Tribune, and the “French Navy was able to demonstrate all its competence in naval aviation (landing) and convinced the Indians of the Rafale Marine’s capability.”
A blogger provided a photo of a Rafale Marine jet flying with an Exocet anti-ship missile, two 2,000-liter fuel tanks, and four MICA air-to-air missiles during the January tests.
According to French analysts, this configuration demonstrated that the Rafale Marine could take off from a ski-jump with an external load of over 5.5 tonnes, nearly matching the maximum weight of jets taking off from the French Navy’s Charles De Gaulle aircraft carrier, which uses a catapult to launch aircraft. Catapult-launched aircraft can lift heavier loads than ski-jump-launched aircraft.