Soon the Indian Navy is expected to get Rafale fighter jets from the French Company Dassault Aviation. Though there is no official announcement so far from the government, the French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to visit India in early March and the deal for deck based fighter jets is likely to be announced.
The bilateral visit of the French President is in addition to his visit scheduled later in the year for the G20 Leaders Summit in September which will take place in New Delhi.
Financial Express Online has reported recently that the IAF has received the final Rafale fighter jet – signaling the completion of the delivery of the 36 fighters the government had ordered for the IAF.
Rafale M for the Indian Navy
If this is ordered for the Indian Navy then it is going to be deployed on the latest Indian Aircraft Carrier – INS Vikrant which was commissioned into the navy last year. This aircraft is being used by other armies across the globe like the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Indonesia and Greece.
The Rafale M is a fighter of the fourth generation that features a delta wing and twin engines. This fighter jet can also launch nuclear assaults as it comes with its semi-stealth capabilities; however, it is highly improbable that the US will give its F-18 Super Hornet permission to carry out such operations. And, “India will lose its strategic autonomy if it buys aircraft from the United States,” explained an officer who wished to remain anonymous.
Indian Navy’s requirement
The Indian Navy is looking to upgrade its fleet of fighters, which is currently made up of the problematic Russian-origin MiG-29Ks. The Navy has plans to decommission 43 Russian MiG-29K and MiG-29KUB from the fleet soon.
In 2022, the Financial Express Online reported that the Indian Navy evaluated the Rafale-M, which is manufactured by the French aircraft company Dassault Aviation, as well as the F/A-18 Super Hornet, which is manufactured by the American aircraft manufacturer Boeing.
Following the completion of the tests, the Navy provided the Ministry of Defense with an extensive report late last year. According to the findings of the study, the Rafale-M is the aircraft that is best suited to meet the operational requirements of the Indian Navy. The trials of the Rafale M and the American made F/A-18 Super Hornet were conducted extensively in 2022 at INS Hansa, a naval base in Goa.
Why does the Navy prefer the Marine Version?
The IAF operates two squadrons of the Rafale fighter, and if the Indian Navy orders the marine variant of the same fighter, spares and maintenance will be shared between the two services. The marine variant of the Rafale will share more than 85 percent of its components with the IAF variant. In the long term, an Indian company may even overhaul both types.
It has been reported that the French government is prepared to strip its aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle of some of its Rafale M fighter jets and hand them over to India. This would allow Indian carrier pilots to begin training and develop rules of operations prior to the arrival of the Rafale Ms that have been contracted to be delivered.
France has placed sanctions on Russia in response to pressure from the US, despite the fact that France has historically helped India with military weapons during times of conflict. Because France has never sanctioned India in its history, it enjoys an advantage over other countries in terms of dependability. The US on the other hand has historically sanctioned India.
Geopolitics and military procurement
France’s stance toward Russia in the situation in Ukraine has been more mature than that of the US, which has restricted the use of its currency and shipping for dealings with Russia. France, on the other hand, has taken a more conciliatory approach. The majority of nations, which do not want to become involved in the conflict, have found this to be a source of the difficulty. Therefore, this exemplifies the strategic reason why it is not a good idea to purchase a limited number of American aircraft for Indian aircraft carriers.
While deciding whether or not to buy fighters, New Delhi will also consider India’s rapidly expanding defence relationship with France, which also has interests in the Indian Ocean. France has a long history of naval presence in the region.
The Indian Navy will buy 26 deck based fighters and this will be through Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) (Government-to-government) route. And the aircraft procured will be based on the operational requirement and the specifications of the navy and this also includes the need for twin engine versus single engine as well as the weight.