India to begin evaluating the Rafale M fighter for Vikrant aircraft carrier

Derek Gordon/

From January 6, 2022, the Indian Navy will test the naval version of the Dassault Rafale fighter jet, the Rafale M.  

With the MRCBF (Multi Role Carrier Borne Fighters) program, the Indian Naval Air Arm is attempting to replace its aging fleet of 40 MiG-29K aircraft.  

As announced in October 2021, the French fighter will have to prove its capacity to operate from the INS Vikrant, the first aircraft carrier built in India and which is currently undergoing sea trials. To do so, the aircraft will have to demonstrate its ability to perform a ski-jump take- off from a ramp.  

Indeed, unlike the French Navy’s Charles de Gaulle that uses a catapult launch system (CATOBAR), both the INS Vikrant and the INS Vikramaditya, (the former Soviet carrier previously known as  Admiral Gorshkov) use a Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (STOBAR) system. The test will take place at the INS Hansa shore-based test facility in Goa that simulates the deck of the INS Vikramaditya. 

If tests prove conclusive, the Indian Navy could lease up to five Rafale M fighters from France, according to The Hindustan Times, citing defense officials. With this lease, the INS Vikrant could become operational on the symbolic date of August 15, 2022, the 75th anniversary of Indian independence. The media notes that the Navy could make use of the Rafale training and maintenance facility at Ambala Air Force Station. 

India is also considering the Boeing F-18 Super Hornet as a possible replacement. The latter already demonstrated its STOBAR capacity at Patuxent River Naval Air Station in the state of Maryland, United States. But it is due to be put to the test on Indian soil from March 2022. 

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