Dassault Rafale-M vs Boeing F-18 Super Hornet: which aircraft Indian Navy will buy?

Rafale M vs F/a-18
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Recently, Boeing released a video showing two F/A-18E “Super Hornet” fighter jets successfully completing a ski-jump take-off and landing test in India. In the context of the Indian-made “Vikrant” aircraft carrier that will be commissioned in August, the selection of supporting carrier-based aircraft has come to an end.

According to Boeing, the F/A-18E “Super Hornet” and P-8I “Poseidon” anti-submarine patrol aircraft have information interaction capabilities. At present, the Indian Navy has equipped 12 P-8I aircrafts. In addition, the F/A-18 also has the ability to fold the wings, which the main competitor “Rafale” M does not have.

India is one of the oldest country in Asia to operate an aircraft carrier, India has operated some second-hand aircraft carriers in the past and present such as the British Centaur-class aircraft carrier INS Viraat and the Majestic-class aircraft carrier INS Vikrant (R11), currently India operates the old Soviet-made Kiev Class Aviation Cruiser, known as INS Vikramaditya.

India now wants to operate a dual-aircraft carrier battle group. The INS Vikramaditya and the new INS Vikrant, both will form a powerful dual-aircraft carrier strike group. Although the Soviet-made INS Vikramaditya has some service issues, the aircraft carrier caught fire at sea a few days ago, and it seems that it will take some time for maintenance.

Turning the focus back to the Indian-made “Vikrant” aircraft carrier, the ship fourth sea trial has been completed, which mainly includes comprehensive testing of the equipments and subsystems on the ship. Including the take-off and landing of the Indian-made Advanced Light Helicopter Dhruv Mark III, the testing of AK-630M Close-in Weapon System, and the adaptability test of the MiG-29K carrier-based aircraft, it seems that it has reached the final test stage. However, key equipment such as the carrier-based radar system and carrier-based aircraft arresting cables have not yet been installed, which is almost equivalent to an empty ship. It is expected that the supporting carrier-based aircrafts and other things will be done before the ship commissioning in August.

At present, the Indian Navy’s active and main carrier-based aircraft is the MiG-29K, which was the product of the bundled sale package of the Russian aircraft carrier. However, both the Russian Navy and the Indian Navy are extremely dissatisfied with the performance of the MiG-29K. The aircraft got many issues. However, the original package of the Indian “Vikrant” aircraft carrier was also the MiG-29K. The original design was also based on its size specifications. In addition, the domestic LCA “Tejas” fighter aircraft on the ship was also considered. Moreover, the MiG-29K has been in service for nearly more than ten years, and its performance is not too good. In addition, the MiG-29K has become outdated and has a high failure rate and low dispatch efficiency, so the Indian Navy has no good feeling for this model at all.

In addition, although the LCA “Tejas” fighter has already taken off and landed on the ship, there are many deficiencies in the prototype design. Not only is the loading capacity poor, but the range and combat radius also fail to meet the minimum requirements. Therefore, re-bidding considers the introduction of Western fighters. Due to the good international environment and the abundant sources of carrier-based aircraft, after India decided to purchase carrier-based aircraft for domestic aircraft carriers, the US F/A-18 and the French “Rafale” are now in the list.

The “Vikrant” aircraft carrier is 260 meters long, 60 meters wide, and has a full-load displacement of 40,000 tons. It adopts a ski-jump take-off design. It is expected to carry 36-40 carrier-based aircraft, including 26 fixed-wing fighter jets. Taking into account the training and spare needs, India’s new-generation carrier-based aircraft demand is set at 57. However, since India still has a future domestic carrier-based aircraft plan, the procurement data was cut in half and lowered to 26 aircraft, but no matter how much it is, it is a big money-making order for the United States and France.

Dassault’s performance is very positive in terms of aircrafts. After all, France and India have a long-term cooperative relationship in history, and the main models of Indian equipment include the Mirage-2000s and Rafales. What’s more, India has spent 8.7 billion US dollars to purchase 36 “Rafale” fighter jets. As for now, the Indian Air Force has received all of them. As an old user of French warmachines, Dassault is confident that the probability of success is very high. It took the lead in taking out the “Rafale” M carrier-based aircraft to participate in the competition, and went to India for a 12-day compatibility test at the beginning of this year. It fully meets India’s needs in terms of performance, and it also belongs to the same type of fighter aircraft as the Air Force “Rafale”, which will be maintained in the future.

Boeing response was a little later but equally positive, sending two F/A-18 Super Hornets to India for a basic ski-jump test. And it also brings real weapons with it. For example, it can be seen in the video that two 500-pound laser-guided bombs, as well as AIM-9X short-range missiles and AIM-120 medium-range air-to-air missiles, left a deep impression on the Indian side – the Americans are very professional. In fact, the United States paid more attention to the ski-jump carrier-based aircraft than Dassault, and has already conducted relevant tests. In the 1970s and 1980s, the US military considered building a light ski-jump aircraft carrier to achieve global deployment of aircraft carriers at low cost.

At that time, the British aircraft carrier data was used as a reference to build a land-based take-off and landing platform, and relevant tests were carried out on the E-2 “Hawkeye” early warning aircraft, the F-14 “Tomcat” fighter, and the F-18 “Hornet” fighter. The results show that with the support of strong power, these fighters can successfully complete the ski-jump take-off and landing, and also have a relatively considerable payload. Although the US military eventually developed super aircraft carriers, and light aircraft carriers were replaced by amphibious assault ships, this kind of test data and experience is no less than that of countries with ski-jump aircraft carriers, and it is now easy to transfer them directly to Indian aircraft carriers.

What’s more, Boeing is also very confident. With the increasing relations of US-India cooperation, India has purchased a lot of US-made equipment in recent years, including C-17A strategic transport aircraft, P-8I maritime patrol aircraft, and AH-64 “Apache” helicopters, and the CH-47 “Chinook” transport helicopter. Moreover, Boeing has also carried out a series of cooperation with India, such as setting up a branch in India, which is responsible for the production of AH-64 “Apache” helicopter body parts.

Although the “Rafale” has a good sales record in India, the unit price is as high as 240 million US dollars, which is comparable to a stealth fighter. For India, the Air Force can continue to buy it, but the Navy may not follow the order. The unit price of the F/A-18 “Super Hornet” is about 80 million US dollars, and its performance will not be worse than that of the “Rafale” fighter jet. In addition, the relationship between the United States and India is further expanding. In order to obtain the support of the United States and put pressure on neighboring countries such as Pakistan. It seems that it is not impossible to spend some money on peace of mind. Overall, the MiG-29K is unreliable, and the “Rafale” is too expensive. In the end, the Indian carrier-based aircraft is likely to be a Boeing Hornet.

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