Military Aviation

Dassault wants to prove the Rafale M can fly from a ski-jump in India but INS Vikrant lift may be too small to accommodate either the French fighter or the F/A-18

The Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet – Rafale M’s competitor – already demonstrated the ski-jump capability in December 2020 at NAS Patuxent River in the US.

Dassault aims to bring its Rafale M (Marine) carrier-borne fighter to the shore-based test facility (SBTF) at INS Hansa in January 2022, India to prove that the jet can take off from a ski-jump, ThePrint reports.

Dassault is eyeing a mega contract with the Indian Navy for new fighters. The service in fact plans to procure new fighters to replace the Russian MiG-29Ks.

According to a source in the defence establishment “The Rafale M will not take off from the aircraft carrier (during the showcase) but from the shore-based test facility (SBTF) at INS Hansa, Goa. The Dassault Aviation is confident and wanted to showcase their capability in India itself.”

Carrier-based fighters primarily come in three categories — STOVL (short take-off and vertical landing), STOBAR (Short Take-off but Arrested Recovery) and CATOBAR (catapult take-off but arrested recovery).

US Navy aircraft carriers and French Navy’s Charles de Gaulle use CATOBAR Indian carriers — INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant — employ STOBAR. That’s why foreign fighters have to showcase the capability as a basic requirement.

STOBAR is a system used for the launch and recovery of aircraft from the deck of an aircraft carrier, combining short take-off without catapults and arrested recovery using cables on deck for the aircraft to catch.

As we have already reported, the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet – Rafale M’s competitor – already demonstrated the ski-jump capability in December 2020 at Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River in the US.

Dassault Aviation had been in talks with the Indian Navy for the Rafale M even before they signed the contract for the 36 air force fighters in 2016.

In 2017, the Navy issued a Request for Information (RFI) for 57 new fighters.

In 2020, the Indian Navy chief Admiral Karambir Singh has said the service may pursue joint acquisition of fighters with the Indian Air Force (IAF).

“We have the MiG-29K operating from the Vikramaditya and will operate from the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC)-I [the INS Vikrant]. To replace them, we have taken up a case for the Multi-Role Carrier-Borne Fighters (MRCBF) which we are trying to do along with the IAF,” he explained.

In 2016 Comptroller and Auditor General of India (the country authority which audits all receipts and expenditure of the Government of India and the state governments), issued a report criticising the MiG-29K fighters for problems with engines and electronic control systems which resulted in “serviceability” of the airplanes “varying between 16 per cent and 39 per cent” meaning that out of fleet 10 fighters only 3 were normally available for operations at given time.

Sources in the defence establishment said that the lift of the INS Vikrant may be too small to accommodate either the Rafale M or the F/A-18. While the Boeing fighter comes with foldable wings, Rafale does not.

“The mere fact that both companies are eager to offer their aircraft means that they have taken into account various measurements,” a source said, refusing to get into the specifics.

While Dassault is happy to merge naval requirements with that of the IAF, Boeing is skeptical about it, they added.

Photo credit: U.S. Navy

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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