An F/A-18 Super Hornet taking off from INS HANSA Shore Test Based Facility


Under the Multi-Role Carrier Borne Fighters (MRCBF) program, the Indian Navy is planning to acquire 57 carrier-borne fighter aircraft that will operate from its Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC), which will be in service as INS Vikrant once it is commissioned. The 37,000-ton carrier completed its final sea trials in early-July 2022 and is scheduled to be commissioned in August 2022 reported the Janes.

India’s new aircraft carrier has been designed as a ski-jump launch ship, different from many other such carriers, which use a catapult launch for their jets. The aircraft selected by the Indian Navy consequently must be capable of taking off in this fashion, carrying all weapon systems and full fuel load.

The ski-jump ramp uses what naval experts call short take-off but arrested recovery (STOBAR) technology. The suppliers have made modifications to both Rafale-M and Super Hornet to make them suitable for the Indian order, defence sources said.

The Navy is looking for an aircraft that is capable of delivering nuclear loads, air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles, and precision-guided bombs.

The Rafale-M and F-18 Super Hornet jets were tested at Goa’s INS Hansa facility using a 283 metre mock ski-jump facility.

The recent CAATSA waiver by the United States House of Representatives passed by voice vote a legislative amendment approved the waiver to India against the punitive CAATSA sanctions for its purchase of the S-400 missile defence system from Russia to help deter aggressors like China. The legislative amendment was passed on 14th June 2022 as part of an enbloc (all together as a single unit) amendment during floor consideration of the National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA). This well could be a supplemental ruse to push the superlative F/A-18 Super Hornet Block-III to the Indian  Navy.

Boeing F/A-18

Boeing has concluded a demonstration of the F/A-18 Super Hornet's ability to launch from Indian aircraft carriers with two Boeing AGM-84 Harpoon missiles, which exceeds India's requirement for its multirole carrier-borne fighters (MRCBF) program.

The capability was demonstrated at the Indian Navy's Shore Based Test Facility (SBTF) at INS Hansa in Goa, India, between late-May and early-June 2022. The demonstrations were done as part of trials to validate the F/A-18's ability to operate from Indian carriers.

As part of its bid for the approximately USD 6 billion program, Boeing dispatched two F/A-18 airframes to the SBTF to demonstrate the aircraft's ability to operate from Indian ships. The SBTF features a flight deck and a ski-jump slope that have been modelled closely after Indian carriers and are equipped with similar short take-off but arrested recovery (STOBAR) equipment found on the future INS Vikrant.


India’s new aircraft carrier has been designed as a ski-jump launch ship, different from many other such carriers, which use a catapult launch for their jets.

The marine version of the French-made Rafale fighter jet has been successfully flight-tested at a shore-based facility in Goa where conditions similar to that on the indigenously-developed aircraft carrier INS Vikrant were simulated.

Which One Is The More Potent Aircraft, Rafale Or F-18 Super Hornet Block-III?

The superlative cockpit of the F/A-18 (L), the Rafale-M doesn't fair badly either. Note the iPad attached to Rafale pilot's lap to supplement workload to view detailed maps of the target

The IAC-1 is undergoing sea trials with MiG-29K fighters on board for now. They have already proven to operate from ski jump on board the INS Vikramaditya writes Girish Linganna on Raksha-Anirveda.

The Super Hornet delivers next-generation multi-role strike fighter capabilities, It has the flexibility, performance and the capability to modernise the naval aviation or air force of the country.

On the other hand, the naval version of the indigenous TEJAS light combat aircraft has been rejected in the past by the Navy saying that as of now, single-engine fighters cannot optimally operate from a carrier. The future fighter jet to be indigenously developed Twin-Engine Deck Based Fighter (TEDBF), may be ready for trials by the end of this decade.


The F/A-18 Super Hornet can fit into both elevators of IAC-1 with folded wings. The Super Hornets, unlike the French fighter jets, are capable of being launched from the deck of both Vikrant or Vikramaditya.

Rafale-M can only be operated from a shore-based facility which makes it lose one-third of its combat capacity. Another limitation for the fighter stands as it lacks a folding wing mechanism that turns Rafale-M Trainer incapable from being operated by an Indian aircraft carrier. Also, the Rafale-M requires the removal of Tip rails and weapons before moving the aircraft using the Lift to carry it to the maintenance bay, while Boeing’s aircraft doesn’t face this issue. Thirdly, limited production lines make Rafale-M more pricey, thereby increase its overall cost. However, both aircrafts are a catapult launch, therefore, the ski jump trial is new for both of them.

In terms of armament, both are capable of carrying massive weapon loads, air to ground weapons and long-range air to air missiles but while the Rafale-M fighter can carry just one anti-submarine missile, F/A-18 Hornet on the contrary can carry up to four such missiles- an advantage over the French fighter jet. ‘

Both the aircraft are 4.5 generation fighters while the F/A-18 has a hugely successful history of combat over high land and seas.

INS Vikrant's Air Journey So Far

The 45,000 metric tons indigenous aircraft carrier is expected to carry an air group of around thirty aircraft of which about 24-26 would be fixed-wing combat aircraft. Apart from the above, the IAC-1 would also carry 10 Westland Sea King or Ka-31 helicopters. While the Sea King will provide anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capability, Ka-31 will fulfil the airborne early warning (AEW) role.

The F/A-18 is best suited to guard India’s maritime interests. Boeing believes that P-8I and the Super Hornet will bring in several opportunities between the two Navies for a secure Indo-Pacific. Back in 2016, TEJAS was announced to be overweight for carrier operations and so, the Navy settled with MiG-29K as the primary aircraft for the IAC-1.

However, in January 2017, an international Request for Information (RFI) for over 57 “Multi-Role Carrier Borne Fighters” was released by the Navy and the main contest was between Dassault Rafale-M and the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.

Boeing's Aggressive Push 

As per Boeing officials, the F/A-18 Super Hornet Block-III will serve the Indian Navy with differentiated and unique abilities in the form of a combat-proven, advanced, multi-role naval fighter which stands compatible with the above-cited carriers. The aircraft has been particularly designed from its inception for carrier operations and shall achieve the required parameters of the IN, said Alain Garcia, the vice president of Boeing’s India Business Development.

He further added that the Super Hornet Block-III is equipped with open architecture and advanced networking which allows the fighter to jointly work with the Indian Navy’s P-8I and several other assets of the US-origin. It can rapidly welcome new technologies in order to stay a step ahead of emerging threats.

The F/A-18 is best suited to guard India’s maritime interests. Boeing believes that P-8I and the Super Hornet will bring in several opportunities between the two Navies for a secure Indo-Pacific.

If the F/A-18 Super Hornet wins the game, the cooperation between India and the United States would surely deepen further

Mentioning another advantage of the fighter, Boeing said that the Super Hornet comes with affordable acquisition cost and also the Hornet costs less per flight hour for operating when compared to any other tactical aircraft in the United States forces arsenal, including single engine fighters. Officials say that this has been possible as the Super Hornet offers impressive durability and is designed for ease of maintainability.

Officials state that over 275 Indian suppliers deliver complex assemblies, parts and components for Boeing’s defence and commercial aircraft, including the P-8I, F-15, Apache, C-17, Chinook, T-7 and the F/A-18.

The joint venture between Boeing and TATA Advanced Systems, TATA Boeing Aerospace Limited (TBAL), has been manufacturing aero-structures for Boeing’s AH-64 Apache helicopter while they recently delivered the 140th Apache fuselage. This JV is also producing a complex structural part, 737 Vertical Fin structures, on a production line that will be utilizing cutting-edge robotics and automation.

The latter already has the biggest Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) in India, the fighter jet has the interoperability with Lockheed Martin MH-60 R anti-submarine warfare helicopters and Boeing P8Is which were purchased by Delhi for the Indian naval forces.

Noted Defence and Security analyst Joseph Chacko says that both the aircrafts are a fit for the carrier. What is going to decide the winner is who is going to provide how much technology transfers willingly. India had a bad experience with the British equipment because it had American components in it and during the sanctions, the US had stopped the sale of American components in those British equipment used by India. So, in view of the Russian sanctions, India will have to decide if the US is a reliable partner or not. While, even though the French have sanctioned Russia, they still have a better track record in the sanction department.


The duel for the deal is intense, the Navy should decide the best choice fighter for its overall operational requirements in the Indian Ocean region. The decision should not be based on emotions or overbearing strategic benefits. With two belligerent and capricious adversaries breathing down India's neck it would be prudent for the Indian Navy to choose a fighter which would keep the hideous aggressors at bay.