Rafale-M For Indian Navy? French Defence Minister To Board INS Vikrant On 27 November, Report Says
French Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu, who will be in India later this month, is set to go onboard aircraft carrier INS Vikrant off the coast of Mumbai on 27 November, the Hindustan Times has reported.
The Indian Navy is currently evaluating French aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation's Rafale-M and US-based Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet to augment its dwindling fleet of fighters currently made up of the troubled Russian-origin MiG-29Ks.
Both Rafale-Ms and Super Hornets have demonstrated their ability to take off from a ski-jump platform of the kind that Indian aircraft carriers have. Ski-jump tests were carried out earlier this year at the shore-based facility at INS Hansa in Goa. Rafale-Ms and Super Hornets are in service with the French Navy and the US Navy, respectively. 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 this 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.
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