New Delhi: The Indian Navy has submitted a detailed trial-evaluation report on the performance of the Rafale (M) and F/A-18 Super Hornet to the defence ministry, sources in the defence establishment said on Thursday. India is looking to procure 26 of one of the two jets for its brand-new aircraft carrier INS Vikrant.
France’s Dassault Aviation makes the Rafale (M) and the United States’ Boeing Defense makes the F/A-18 Super Hornet.
Earlier this year, both these warplanes demonstrated their capabilities at the shore-based test facility at INS Hansa in Goa, which has a ski-jump resembling that of the two Indian aircraft carriers – INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant.
The Navy plans to buy either the Rafale (M) or the F/A-18 Super Hornet as an “interim” arrangement for deployment on INS Vikrant, the force’s vice-chief Vice Admiral SN Ghormade had said in August. He had then said the Navy would ultimately be deploying the indigenous TEDBF (twin engine deck-based fighter), whose first prototype is expected by 2026-27 and production to start in 2032 and production to start in 2032. The Navy chief Admiral R Hari Kumar reiterated the same during his Navy Day-eve news conference, on December 3.
Currently, the Indian Navy operates with Russian-origin Mig-29K aircraft from INS Vikramaditya.
Edge for Rafale (M)?
According to a Hindustan Times report quoting an official who didn’t want to be named, the Rafale (M) is said to have an edge over the F/A-18 Super Hornet in bagging the contract. The report quoted the anonymous official as saying, “The Rafale (M) has been found to be a better fit for the Navy’s requirements.”
However, on the speculations over the Rafale (M) being picked for INS Vikrant, some observers of big-ticket defence deals in the country told India Sentinels that the pricing of the two jets and other factors, like the terms and conditions of offset contracts and technology transfer, can play a big role in the government’s decision to award the contract. It may be recalled that India procured 36 Rafale aircraft in flyway condition from Dassault for the Indian Air Force in a truncated government-to-government deal for a staggering ₹58,000 crore without any transfer of technology, in 2016. That deal raised eyebrows and kicked a political row in the country.
It may be noted that on November 27, a French delegation led by the country’s defence minister, Sebastien Lecornu, visited the INS Vikrant in Kochi. That was during his two-day India visit to attend the fourth annual defence dialogue with the Indian defence minister, Rajnath Singh.
It is also worth mentioning that in mid-November, the US navy secretary, Carlos Del Toro, had also led a delegation to the INS Vikrant and interacted with the ship’s crew.