India on Friday, will test the Rafale-M (Marine) jet for use on its Vikramaditya aircraft carrier as well as the indigenous aircraft carrier-1 (IAC-1), which will be deployed as the INS Vikrant, at the INS Hansa in Goa, a shore-based test facility. The aircraft for the test arrived Thursday.

The Rafale-M aircraft is the F4 equivalent standard naval version of the Rafale. The marine version of the Rafale jet has a reinforced undercarriage and nose wheel, a bigger arrester hook, an integrated ladder, and other minor differences from the Rafale currently in use in the Indian Air Force.

According to people familiar with the matter, the Rafale-M is better suited for use on the aircraft carriers than the F18 Hornet fighter from the US for several reasons. They pointed out that it can fit into the lift bay of the Vikramaditya, unlike the F18 which cannot fit the lift of the Vikramaditya even with folded wings. The Rafale-M's dimensions also mean more of them (14) can fit onto the deck of the Vikramaditya as compared to 10 or 11 F18s.

It also requires very minimal modification to the wheel-chokes of the Vikramaditya, which are reversible and can be de-modified, if required.

The Rafale-M can carry up to four-five tonnes of external load (with full internal fuel) for a ski take-off. With lesser internal fuel, it can carry more weapons depending upon mission requirements. Thus it can carry out all roles, including combat air patrol, intercept, AD escort, as well as sea and land-strike with full internal fuel.

Officials familiar with the matter also added that unlike the F-18s, which requires the carriers to be fitted with a new carrier optical landing system, the Rafale M’s can work with the existing one on the Vikramaditya.

There’s also the benefit of a common platform across the navy and the Air Force, one of the people said. Apart from synergies in logistics and maintenance, this person added, Indian Navy pilots could be trained on IAF’s Rafales for “faster induction”.

The navy will likely test the F18s at the same facility in March.

The Vikrant is likely to be commissioned by August 15, and if the Rafale-M is chosen, India may seek to lease four or five of the aircraft for immediate deployment. The Vikramaditya is currently equipped with two squadrons of aging MiG-29.

The Rafale-M sent for testing is the latest version of the fighter with India-specific enhancements. It is nuclear-capable, carries Meteor air-to-air missiles, SCALP air-to-ground missiles, and Hammer precision guided ammunition.