A F-18 fighter taking off from a temporary ramp during a flight test

The Indian Navy is set to begin its search for identifying the best warplane for INS Vikrant. The indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC-1) known as INS Vikrant will be commissioned in August 2022. Reports say that the Navy will conduct flight trials of Rafale-M fighter to see if it suits the 40,000 ton carrier. The trials of Rafale-Maritime will be held at Shore Based Test Facility at INS Hansa in Goa starting January 6.

With countdown already begun to commission Indigenous Aircraft Carrier as INS Vikrant in August 2022, the Indian Navy will conduct flight trials of Rafale-Maritime fighter at Shore Based Test Facility at INS Hansa in Goa on January 6 onwards as part of its exercise to identify the best warplane to suit the 40,000 tonne carrier. The IAC-1 is based at Cochin shipyard and is currently undergoing intensive sea trials in Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean.

According to officials in knowledge of the matter, the Rafale-M fighter will be pushed through intensive trial at the 283 metre mock-up ski jump facility at INS Hansa for nearly 12 days to assess whether the fighter aircraft is best suited for IAC-1. The Rafale M fighter is the principal weapon system for French Charles De Gaulle aircraft carrier and has also shown its inter-operability with US aircraft carriers way back in 2008.

As per reports, The Indian Navy is also planning to test US F-18 Hornet fighter at the same facility apparently in March as the alternative option to Rafale-M fighter. The Boeing F-18 is a proven carrier based multi-role fighter for the US Navy and has performed strike operations from way back to 1991 Gulf War.

Why Rafale Might Have An Edge

Rafale-M is lighter and smaller in airframe to F-18 and packs a bigger punch than its American counterpart

The Rafale-M has longer range air to air missiles and air to land missiles

Naval Aviation experts also surmised that the F-18 Hornet will be require structural modifications to the IAC-1 to fit into the lift to cart the fighter from hanger to the flight deck above due to its comparatively larger airframe.

The larger frame thus makes the F-18 a secondary choice that tilts the scale towards the Rafale-M

Another key advantage is familiarity, Dassault have since trained several Indian engineers to maintain the Air Force version of the plane. It would play a vital role to develop the necessary maintenance resource base to keep the fighters in combative readiness

What Are The Alternatives?

The IN operates two squadrons of the Russian MiG-29 on the INS Vikramaditya

However, the Russian fighter is poorly designed and built and the IN is facing serious issues relating to maintenance which involves very high operating costs

Availability of spare parts has been another serious issue

There are also unconfirmed reports that parts kept falling off from the MiG-29 and IN is nearly fed up with the fighter. Therefore, Indian Navy will not show any interest to procure these Russian fighters due the severe lack of operational availability of the aircraft, thus, effecting its combat readiness.

Another contender in waiting is the ADA/HAL Twin Engine Deck Based Fighter (TEDBF) which is expected to have its first trial run before 2026 and its induction into active operation would be most likely before 2030-31

The TEDBF would ultimately fill the huge numbers which is required to keep our shores safe from our two scrappy adversaries and the procurement of either aircraft would only be a stop-gap arrangement 


It would be interesting to see the outcome of the tests and which fighter the IN would finally choose. In the end, the IN is the more astute arm among the three armed forces as they have had a clear vision and focus to develop indigenous system over the past 2 decades and would choose wisely.