The Indian Navy’s first indigenous aircraft carrier, the INS Vikrant, is undergoing extensive sea trials & landing trials of Marine Rafale & Hornets tests also being conducted before entering regular duty late this year. Because of the navy’s unreliable 45 Russian MiG-29K fighters, the navy aims to buy 26 multi role carrier borne fighters (MRCBF) from an international vendor as soon as possible so that INS Vikrant has additional strike options besides the unreliable MiG-29s.
With INS Vikrant likely to be followed by INS Vishal, a second indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC-2), another 31 MRCBFs will be procured to operate off her deck, bringing the total number of MRCBFs acquired to 57. The F/A-18E Super Hornet fighters offered by Boeing, the top contender to deliver the MRCBFs, are said to be substantially more appealing than the carrier-based Rafale type offered by French company Dassault Aviation.
According to Alain Garcia, Boeing Defense’s India business development chief, the Super Hornet has significant operational advantages. The tender for 26 MRCBFs from the Indian Navy calls for eight twin seat and only 18 single seat variants. Boeing’s F-18s are all designed to be capable of carrier deck operations, including the single-seat F/A-18E and the twin-seat F/A-18F. The twin seat Rafale Marine, unlike the twin seat Super Hornet, cannot fly from an aircraft carrier. Many Indian acquisition officials say that the twin-seat Rafale should be disqualified from the MRCBF tender.
Only eight of the 26 Rafale planes being purchased can operate from land. According to an Indian procurement officer, it’s difficult to understand why the Navy would buy jets that can’t fly off a carrier. The Indian Navy, however, has decided that the twin-seat Rafale would not be disqualified due to its inability to fly from a carrier, according to sources.
Officials from Boeing claim that the Super Hornet was planned to be a carrier-based aircraft. The Super Hornet’s foldable wings, for example, conserve space on the flight deck, in the hangars, and on the lift that carries planes between these two levels. The wings of the Rafale, on the other hand, are not collapsible. To transport it from one deck to another, parts like the nose cone and wing tips must be removed.
Other platforms and aviation systems that operate from a US carrier, like the Super Hornet, are built from the ground up to work as part of a carrier-based system. The F/A-18G Growler, for example, is an electronic attack variant of the Super Hornet meant to accompany Super Hornets on strike missions, jamming enemy radar and electronic defenses. Air wings on US Navy aircraft carrier groups also have an airborne early warning capability, with three to four E-2D Hawkeye aircraft on board.
This capability is being considered by the Indian Navy. Super Hornets on carriers are also very compatible with equipment used by the Indian Navy. They communicate with the MH-60 Romeo anti-submarine helicopters, P-8I Poseidon long-range maritime aircraft, and the other warships in the carrier group using NATO standard Link-16 data, sound, and video lines.
Interoperability between US Navy systems might be improved if the Indian Navy purchased Super Hornets. The Super Hornet and Rafale Marine – demonstrated their aircraft’s interoperability with a ski jump and other carrier systems in the navy’s shore-based test centre in Goa. Both companies will now submit a final letter of price and availability, on which Indian officials would base their selection.