The Indian Navy’s tender for 57 MRCBF to be equipped on an Indian Aircraft carrier has shrunk to 27 jets, but that hasn’t stopped a fierce battle in India’s tiny state of Goa, where two F-18 E/F have landed to demonstrate their capabilities to operate from the Indian Navy’s aircraft carrier, which is expected to supplement Mig-29K deck-based fighter jets.
Both the Rafale M and the F-18 E/F are worlds ahead of the doomed Mig-29K, which is experiencing technical troubles. However, the Rafale-M, which was in India in January, has reached some design restrictions, giving the F-18 E/F the upper hand in the sale, which is already making the French worried.
The lack of a folding wing mechanism on the Rafale-M appears to be the biggest stumbling block that will prevent the Rafale-M Trainer variant from being operated by an Indian aircraft carrier, whereas the F-18 E/F has a folding wing mechanism that will reduce its footprint on the hangar decks, giving it a huge technical advantage.
The second technical issue with the Rafale-M is that it requires the removal of weapons and Tip rails before it can be moved using the lift to the maintenance bay below, which Boeing has confirmed in an official presentation to the Indian Navy will not require the removal of the Radome cone or wingtip rails while using lifts on board the Ins Vikrant and Ins Vikramaditya.
Because the Rafale-M has a limited production line, it is more expensive than the Rafale F3R that the Indian Air Force purchased. As a result, the French Navy and the French Ministry of Defense have now provided used Rafale-M to the Indian Navy to sweeten the deal.
India’s own deck-based Twin Engine Deck Based Fighter (TEDBF) is in development and will share the same F-414 engine as the F-18 E/F, which might be a great benefit to the maintenance crew, when both aircraft types are based on the same aircraft carrier, the requirement to carry separate spares for the two engine types is reduced, as is the need to have an additional spare engine onboard, saving money on additional maintenance crew training to service the two engine types.
Because of its higher all-up take-off weight and far more powerful engines, the F-18 E/F already outperforms the competition in terms of weapons carrying capability. This will be especially important when flying in dry, humid conditions at sea level in the Indian Ocean region. With around 1500 legacy and current-generation F-18s manufactured over the last 40 years, it is far more economical and less expensive than the Rafale-M, which only produced 46 jets. It also has reduced operating and spare costs.