January 11, 2022 - 11:37 am

Indian Navy To Conduct Flight Test Of Rafale-M 

    French aircraft maker Dasault Aviation will fly its Rafale-M fighter jet from the Indian Navy's Shore Based Test Facility (SBTF) in Goa to demonstrate compatibility and suitability to operate from the carrier's deck. The demonstration starting from Monday is expected to go up to Feb 1. These trials are part of demonstrations by aircraft manufacturers to showcase the compatibility of their aircraft to fly from Indian Navy's aircraft carriers which use a ski-jump to launch aircraft.

    The procurement process is being undertaken in a unique manner, with requests from demonstrations and technical information being placed on the American and French government, instead of directly approaching the companies manufacturing the jets. The plan is to go in for government to government deal that wouls shorten the selection and negotiations process to acquire the jets that are urgently needed for Vikrant that is set to be made operational this year. Both the Rafale-M & F/A-18 originally designed to operate from carriers with the catapult launch mechanism. The carrier would this require minor modifications to operate the aircraft. Boing has taken a lead in the race having already demonstrated the ability of F/A-18 to take off from a similar share based facility at Naval Air Station Putuxent river in Maryland, US in December 2020.

    However, each fighter brings certain advantages while having some limitations. For instance, while Rafale twin seat trainer is not carrier compatible its acquisition would mean commonality with the Indian Air Force which will soon complete inducting the 36 Rafale jets contractor in 2016. On the other hand, the F/A-18 is a much widely employed platform with a twin seater trainer and also has an electronic warfare version which might be of interest to the Navy. There is also the issue of the size of the aircraft and their fit on the carrier and its lifts which would also be factored in the final evaluations.

     All of this is happening against the backdrop of rapid Chinese developments in the field of carrier aviation. For now, at least, the Indian Navy can look forward to getting an up-close look at the capabilities of two leading Western carrier fighters. While INS Vikrant continues its sea trials in the Arabian Sea and Indian ocean, it remains uncertain which fighters will eventually operate from it and the extent of modifications potentially required to make that happen.