India’s Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) could soon approve an order for 26 Dassault Rafale-M fighter jets, a local news outlet reported.
Sources said that the CCS, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, would approve the order during its session on March 22, 2023.
Indian Navy (IN) officials have indicated unofficially that Dassault Aviation’s Rafale-M is expected to win the competition to supply fighters for INS Vikrant, India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier, beating the rival Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.
The Indian Naval Air Arm is currently seeking to replace its aging fleet of 40 MiG-29K aircraft. The fighter will operate from the INS Vikrant, India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier.
After a thorough capability review of the French fighter and the US-made F-18 Super Hornet, the Indian Navy reportedly submitted a procurement request for the former.
Unnamed defence sources have told local media that the evaluation process found the Rafale-M to be “more suitable in meeting the operational requirements and criteria” of the Indian Navy compared to its competitor.
Rafale-M In The Forefront?
The Indian Navy evaluated French aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation’s Rafale-M and US-based Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet earlier this year as it is looking to augment its dwindling fleet of fighters currently made up of the troubled Russian-origin MiG-29Ks.
The Navy has submitted a detailed report to the Defence Ministry after the trials. The report has identified Rafale-M as “more suitable in meeting the operational requirements” of the Indian Navy, the Times of India says.
Interestingly, French Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu, who was in India last Nov 2022, was given a detailed tour of the newly inducted aircraft carrier INS Vikrant off the coast of Mumbai.
Earlier this year, the two fighters participated in trials at the shore-based test facility at INS Hansa in Goa to showcase their capabilities to take off from a ski-jump platform of the kind that Indian aircraft carriers have.
Rafale-Ms and Super Hornets have been in service with the French Navy and the US Navy, respectively, for years. The two navies operate these from their nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.
Unlike India’s two carriers, which use ski-jump (short take-off but arrested recovery or STOBAR) to help aircraft take off from their decks, the US and French carriers use catapult-assisted take-off (catapult assisted take-off but arrested recovery or CATOBAR) to operate aircraft.
In the STOBAR system, aircraft are launched from a carrier using their own power with a ski-jump ramp on the bow of the carrier assisting take off. However, in the CATOBAR system, mechanical assistance is provided to the aircraft for take-off using a catapult, which is built into the carrier’s flight deck. In both these systems, arrestor wires, which rapidly but smoothly decelerate an aircraft as it lands on deck, are used for recovery.
With the induction of the first indigenous aircraft carrier Vikrant on 15 August last year, the Indian Navy will have two aircraft carriers but not enough fighters to keep both warships operational.
In 2017, the Navy had projected a requirement of 57 new fighters. But it has since downsized the requirement to 26 fighters as an indigenous fighter for aircraft carriers — the Twin-Engine Deck-Based Fighter — is being developed by the Aeronautical Development Agency.
Dassault’s Rafale-M has an edge over Boeing’s F/A-18 as the Indian Air Force has already inducted two squadrons of the fighter, has set up maintenance facilities in the country and may contract for more Rafale.
India’s rapidly expanding defence partnership with France, which also has interests in the Indian Ocean, will also be considered when New Delhi decides on the procurement of fighters.
Eventually, India hopes to develop its own carrier-capable fighter as part of the Twin Engine Deck Based Fighter (TEDBF) program. The latter is expected to enter service by 2032.
The TEJAS-N was initially expected to fill that purpose but was rejected by the Indian Navy in 2016 as it was deemed “too heavy”.