Dassault's Rafale-M outperformed its rival Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet in the evaluation process and it was deemed to be more suitable in meeting the operational requirements and criteria of the Indian Navy
|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi cleared the acquisition of 26 x French Rafale-M fighter aircraft along with 150 Meteor BVRAAM missiles on March 22, 2023 under the Multi-Role Carrier Borne Fighter (MRCBF) programme. Members of the CCS are the Ministers for Defence, Home, Finance, and External Affairs and the National Security Advisor.
The Rafale-M along with the Meteors BVRAAM missile will be used by the Indian Navy and will be deployed on INS Vikrant
It is already in the public domain that the Indian Navy has been looking for short-term options to replace its ageing MiG-29K fighter jets. The government has been keen to develop its own Twin-Engine Deck-Based Fighter (TEDBF) aircraft to meet its long-term need for carrier-based operations. But the TEDBF will take considerable time to get introduced into service. The Chief of Naval Staff Admiral R. Hari Kumar had earlier said, "We have learned what the requirements are for a carrier-launched aircraft. Since there is a gap between now and when the prototype will be completed, we expressed interest in a deck-based fighter, and therefore we had Rafale-M and F/A-18 doing the trials in Goa."
Concurrently, Girish S. Deodhare, Director General, Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) had said, "The expertise gained in developing the Light Combat Aircraft (Navy) will come in handy for the TEDBF project. It's currently in the preliminary design stage and should move forward quickly. The wing folding design mechanism (to ensure the plane takes minimum space on an aircraft carrier) has been finalised." The prototype TEDBF is projected to be ready by 2026. Its production is slated to begin in 2031 and possible induction into naval aviation service by 2034 – that is if there are no delays and hiccups. The Navy obviously needs a replacement for its ageing MiG-29K fighter jets fleet.
INS Vikrant, the Indian Navy's first homemade aircraft carrier, went into service in September 2022 and commenced the vital aviation testing months before than expected, with landing/takeoff cycles of the domestic Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Navy and the standard carrier-based fighter MiG-29K. The French Rafale-M and the Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet (also contending for the MRCBF programme) underwent intensive field testing at the Indian Navy's Goa-based facility.
According to the report submitted by the Navy to the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the Dassault's Rafale-M outperformed its rival Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet in the evaluation process and it was deemed to be more suitable in meeting the operational requirements and criteria of the Indian Navy. Therefore, the Navy opted for the Rafale Marine or the Rafale-M fighter aircraft.
Government has been keen to develop its own Twin-Engine Deck-Based Fighter (TEDBF) aircraft to meet its long-term need for carrier-based operations
There is speculation that this purchase would likely cost the Indian government at least $8 billion, roughly calculated from the price of Rafale fighter jets purchased for the Indian Air Force (IAF) by India in 2016. France has completed delivery of all 36 Rafale fighter jets to India by end 2022.
The two variants of the French-made fighter jets (Rafale and Rafale-M) share more than 80 per cent of their components. This would help towards commonality in repairs and maintenance for the Rafale fighter jets with the IAF and the Indian Navy. Not only this, the IAF is already operating 36 x Rafale fighter jets from two bases in India's North and East. The training of Rafale pilots of the two services can be common to a great extent. These advantages were reportedly also part of the report submitted by the Navy favouring the Rafale-M. Chief of Naval Staff Admiral R. Hari Kumar had recently said that Rafale-M has an advantage in terms of spare parts and maintenance due to its commonality with the Indian Air Force's fleet.
The two variants of the French-made fighter jets (Rafale and Rafale-M) share more than 80 per cent of their components. Also, the training of Rafale pilots of the two services (IAF and IN) can be common to a great extent.
According to media reports, the MoD had drafted a detailed contract that includes Performance-based Logistics and ensures that the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) will be in charge of the overall upkeep of the aircraft and the delivery of spare parts. Dassault Aviation will also enable a repair facility for the Rafales onboard the INS Vikrant, in addition to one in Goa's INS Hansa naval air base, and will also train the naval aviation ground personnel, in addition to the pilots.
With the CCS clearing the procurement of Rafale-M and Meteor missiles, the need is for speedy follow up and early provision of Rafale-M to the Indian Navy cutting out the red tape. With this contract, the Indian Navy will become the first export customer for Dassault's carrier-based Rafale-M.