Govt-to-Govt deal for 26 MRCBF
Recently we have seen trails of Rafale-M (the naval version of Rafale) & FA-18 under way. Both the fighters are potent platform with their own pros and cons, either way Indian Navy is going to get the most advance fighter jet for its soon to be commissioned IAC Vikrant. What is new is that the deal for these 26-deck based fighter jet going to be under direct govt-to-govt deal. This is going to enable the delivery of these fighter jets faster – may be in 2 years’ timeline or less after the deal is inked. Out of the 26 fighters, 18 are going to be single seat variant and another 8 are going to be twin seat trainer variant. There was also news the navy might lease fighters for operation for some time. The possibilities for the same has been denied by the MoD officials.
F/A-18 & Rafale-M trial
Rafale-M has already performed the trials from SBTF goa and has proven its capabilities for short take off and arrested landing. Two FA-18s are currently undergoing the trials at SBTF goa and is expected to complete it by mid of June. These trials are being evaluated by Naval Aviation wing of Indian navy. Post the completion of the trials, Indian Navy will submit their report based on which the next deck based fighter jet for Indian Navy will be selected.
While both of the fighters have proven the capabilities for short take off and arrested landing, the four other important factors that are going to play key role in selection is:
- Fitment of the fighter jets in lift
- Trainer variant of the fighter jet
- MRO facility
- Optical Landing System or OLS
Fitment of the fighter jet in lift
FA-18 are much bigger in dimension when compared with Rafale-M, however their foldable wings enable them to easily fit into the lift of IAC Vikrant. We had doubt about its length and when asked the Boeing’s MD, he has clarified that that’s not an issue and FA-18 fits into the lift.
At the same time, to fit Rafale in the lift its wing tip needs to be removed. This increase the overall time of the fighter to be combat ready.
However, due to its small overall dimension, 14 Rafales can fit over the deck of Vikrant whereas only 10 or 11 F18s can fit in there.
Trainer variant of the fighter jet
Training plays a key role in Naval Aviation as its very challenging to perform the short take off and arrested landing from a deck based aircraft carrier. A slight miss calculation or miss judgment can either overshoot the fighter off the deck or it can fall in the sea. Therefore, the training of pilots on a deck based operation is crucial. This is where again F/A-18 has an edge. It has two variants F/A-18C and F/A-18D. The C variant is a single seater and D variant is twin seater. The D-model can be configured for training or as an all-weather strike craft. The F/A-18 super hornet also has two variants E–single seater & F-twin seater. The “missionized” twin seat model’s rear seat is configured for a Naval Aviator who functions as a Weapons and Sensors Officer to assist in operating the weapons systems. At the same time Rafale-M does not have a twin seat variant for deck-based operation. It does have twin seat variant but for land-based operation.
The MRO is not going to be an issue for both the fighters. F/A-18 uses the same family of engine i.e. GE F-404 which powers HAL Tejas but slightly different variant. The Indian version is called F404-GE-IN20 which generates thrust of 85KN with after burner. The engine used in F/A-18 is F404-GE-402 with slightly less thrust of 79KN with after burner. Indian Military is using various other aircrafts from Boeing such as P-8Is, Chinook helicopters and C-17 heavy lift aircraft and going to use the same MRO facility for F/A-18.
The DRAL Maintenance Repair & Overhaul facility which is a Joint Venture between Dassault Aviation, and Anil Ambani’s Reliance Group will be functional from 2023. This facility will provide service, maintenance and overhaul for all Indian air force’s, Rafale fighter jets and same can be used for the Rafale-M if selected.
Optical Landing System or OLS
Optical Landing System or OLS also called meatball is used to give glidepath information to pilots in the terminal phase of landing on an aircraft carrier. If the pilot sees a red light (at the bottom), it means that the aircraft is dangerously low. Rafale-M can operate with existing OLS of Vikrant however, FA-18 cannot and will require modification in aircraft carrier to operate.