French Navy's Rafale marine fighters take off from aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle

The intense competition between US aerospace giant Boeing and French major Dassault Aviation to deck their fighter jets on India’s first indigenously designed and built aircraft carrier INS Vikrant seems to have heated up.

On Sunday, French Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu will begin his first official visit to India by boarding INS Vikrant in Kochi to “highlight the importance” of Indo-French naval cooperation for security and stability in the Indo-Pacific.

France is offering Dassault Aviation’s Rafale maritime fighter for carrier operations on the largest ship ever built in the maritime history of India.

Rafale-M carrier-borne fighters also currently operate from the flight deck of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, the flagship of the French Navy Marine Nationale.

On the other hand, Washington is pitching Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet Block-III to the Indian Navy calling it as the most advanced, combat-proven, multi-role frontline naval fighter.

Only last week, spotlighting that the US-India defence partnership remains a pillar of a free and open Indo-Pacific region, US Secretary of Navy Carlos Del Toro landed in Kochi to visit the Indian Navy’s Southern Naval Command and tour the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC).

Having got “incredibly impressed” with the state-of-the-art aircraft carrier, the top US official said that it enables India to join the elite group of five nations to have built an aircraft carrier and demonstrates a continued commitment to improve sea control capabilities.

“I am looking forward to our US Navy ships operating with Vikrant in the foreseeable future where we will we continue to leverage a foundation of shared values and mutual interests in order to maintain the international norms that ensure not only Indian and U.S. national security, but our economic security,” he said in a statement issued after returning home.

INS Vikrant has been built with high degree of automation for machinery operation, ship navigation and survivability, and has been designed to accommodate an assortment of fixed wing and rotary aircraft.

The warship would be capable of operating air wing consisting of 30 aircraft comprising of MiG-29K fighter jets, Kamov-31, MH-60R multi-role helicopters, in addition to indigenously manufactured Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH) and Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) (Navy).

Using a novel aircraft operation mode known as STOBAR (Short Take-Off but Arrested Landing), the IAC is equipped with a ski- jump for launching aircraft, and a set of ‘arrester wires’ for their recovery onboard.

According to Boeing, designed from its inception for carrier operations, the Super Hornet can operate from Indian Navy aircraft carriers and meets STOBAR performance requirements.

As the US Navy’s frontline fighter with over 800 aircraft delivered around the world, the Block-III Super Hornet is already being deployed to the US Navy. The company says that work is underway to upgrade over 500 Super Hornets to the latest Block-III variant, which offers opportunities for cooperation in naval aviation between the United States and Indian navies, acting as a force multiplier for the Indian Navy as it interfaces with assets such as the P-8I.

The F/A-18 Super Hornet, says Boeing, is fully compliant with INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant aircraft carrier and will be able to operate on the deck, in the hangar and on the lifts of the Indian Navy’s aircraft carriers.

As the Indian Air Force (IAF) adds the 36th fighter jet to its Rafale fleet next month completing the acquisition, Paris too is ready to enhance bilateral defence cooperation in the military aeronautical sector with New Delhi while highlighting the operational performance, technological quality and competitiveness of its aerospace industry.

Showcasing its ability to carry out operations from the Indian aircraft carriers, Dassault Aviation’s Rafale-M had flown from the Shore-based Test Facility (SBTF) at Goa’s Hansa naval air station, in January earlier this year.

In line with Atmanirbhar Bharat policy, France is also working towards establishing a full-fledged aero-defence manufacturing eco-system in India with the setting up of a manufacturing facility in the Mihan SEZ adjoining Nagpur International Airport.

Interestingly, the Rafale entered service with the French Navy in 2004 and with the French Air Force in 2006.

Just like Del Toro, Lecornu too would participate in high-level meetings in New Delhi, calling on National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar.

“The Armed Forces Minister’s visit to India reaffirms France’s engagement in the Indo-Pacific and India’s centrality in the French strategy for the region,” said the French Defence Ministry on Friday.

“It comes in a year that has seen an acceleration of the French and Indian armed forces’ endeavours towards even greater interoperability through joint air, navy, and army exercises, such as IMEX 22 (March), Varuna (March-April), and the recently-concluded Garuda (October-November),” it added.