With the indigenous twin-engine deck-based fighter still a decade away, the Narendra Modi government will purchase 26 carrier-based aircraft on a government-to-government basis for the soon-to-be-commissioned INS Vikrant, based on the Indian Navy’s suggestion.
While the Indian Navy’s shore-based test facility in Goa has already performed flight test trials of the French Rafale-Marine alternatives, the testing of the US F-18 super hornet are slated to be completed by June 15.
The Indian Navy needs 8 twin-seater trainers out of the 26 planes, which may also be deployed in battle. Both fighters are nearly identical in age, and both manufactures have facilities in India for maintenance, repairs, and overhaul.
Both aircraft have undergone extensive testing at the Goa test site, but are yet to land aboard India’s sole aircraft carrier, the INS Vikramaditya, which is currently undergoing substantial maintenance in Karwar and is expected to resume service later in June.
The INS Vikrant, India’s indigenous aircraft carrier, is undergoing sea trials and will be commissioned on August 15, 2022, by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
According to South Block officials, India would not lease jets for the INS Vikrant, but will instead purchase the deck-based fighters outright from either French Dassault or US Boeing, based on the Indian Navy’s aviation wing’s evaluation.
Dassault has sold Rafale fighters to the Indian Air Force, while Boeing has sold P8I anti-submarine warfare platforms, Chinook helicopters, and C-17 heavy lift aircraft to the Indian Air Force. The two aircraft have a proven track record, with the US Navy testing the F-18 in the Afghan and Iraq wars.
New Delhi is aiming for aircraft engine manufacturing under the “Atmanirbhar Bharat” plan with the participation of Indian private sector enterprises, therefore the carrier-based fighter agreement is expected to be coupled with a bigger strategic arrangement with the country involved.
The GE-404 engine is used in the indigenous Tejas fighter, and the GE-414 is being considered for the twin engine advanced multi-role combat aircraft (AMCA) project of the DRDO. While French Safran is keen to manufacture 100 kilo newton engines with Indian entities without any preconditions, the Defence Ministry is also exploring the same with the US.