Two twin seater F/A-18 E/F Block III Super Hornets of Boeing have landed at INS Hansa in Goa, for trials on the Indian Navy’s Shore Based Test Facility (SBTF). These aircraft will be undergoing a series of trials until early next month and will showcase their ski-jump ability as well as their compatibility to operate from India’s first Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC). This is expected to be commissioned in August after completing its sea trials which are going on. Financial Express Online had recently reported that these aircraft will reach India towards the end of May-early June for trials at INS Hansa.
There are two aerospace companies – Dassault Aviation of France and Boeing of the US. They both are in the race for fighter jets which the Indian Navy is planning to buy for the IAC.
During the trials the manufacturers are demonstrating the compatibility of their machines with the Indian Navy’s aircraft carrier which uses the Ski-jump to launch the aircraft.
Has Rafale demonstrated its compatibility?
Yes, earlier this year the French company had sent in its Rafale-M aircraft for the trials.
Rafale-M Vs F/A-18 Super Hornet
To avoid a single vendor situation, both have undergone trials.
Though both aircraft have been designed to operate from aircraft carriers which have a catapult mechanism, according to experts, to get any of these
Both the Rafale-M and F/A-18 are originally designed to operate from carriers with a catapult launch mechanism and to make them operational from IAC, there is a need to carry out minor modifications.
Financial Express Online has reported recently that Rafale-M (Marine) has also undergone trials and has recently been upgraded. Reports from France indicated that it is ready to offer the Rafale-M for the requirement of IAC to be commissioned in the Eastern Command fleet.
QUAD & Indo-Pacific
For India, keeping the maritime lanes free, and open for all, India, France and the US all have the same views as far as freedom of navigation, maritime domain awareness and laws are concerned. These lanes need to be open and free as they are critical for the trade and economy.
France has asserted it is an “Indo-Pacific country” and it is willing to develop closer relationships with neighbouring countries and it considers India at the centre of this strategy.
The US is also a member of AUKUS (Australia, the US and the UK) which was formed in 2021, when the three countries joined together and the UK and Australia will get help from both the US and the UK to build nuclear submarines.
Once any of the aircraft is selected, according to sources, there will be a government to government agreement to ensure a speedy process to acquire the aircraft.
Will it be a fighter jet from the US or France? Only time will tell. However, according to experts, “India could prefer to go with the Rafale-M as it already has Rafale jets in the Indian Air Force (IAF) Fleet, and the company is ready to offer the naval version too.
As reported earlier, the Boeing F/A-18 has already demonstrated its ability in 2020 to take off from Ski-jump at a shore-based facility located at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland.
The Boeing fighter is twin seater and Rafale-M does not have a twin seater trainer.
The American fighter has an electronic warfare version which is of interest to the Indian Navy.
While finalising the deal, the size of the aircraft, its fit on the IAC and lifts would all be factored in.
The Request for Information which was floated in 2017 by the Indian Navy was for procuring 57 twin engine fighter jets, however, it was downsized to 26 multi-role carrier-borne fighters (MRCBF) and this included eight twin seater trainer variants and 18 single seat variants.
These aircraft are expected to replace the ageing MiG-29 K aircraft and in view of the long drawn war between Ukraine and Russia, India is looking at other options. The navy is facing a shortage of aircraft to operate from both its carriers — INS Vikramaditya & the IAC Vikrant when it will be commissioned.