Rafale-M carrier-borne fighter on the flight deck of Charles de Gaulle
Rafale-M carrier-borne fighter on the flight deck of Charles de Gaulle

Indian Navy to Test Dassault Rafale-M Fighter for Aircraft Carrier INS Vikramaditya

The Rafale-M fighter will be pushed through an intensive trial to assess whether it is best suited for Indian Navy aircraft carrier INS Vikrant, also known as Indigenous Aircraft Carrier 1 (IAC-1). The INS Vikrant 1 is based at Cochin shipyard and is currently undergoing intensive sea trials in Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean. With countdown already begun to commission indigenous aircraft carrier 1 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.

Dassault, which is eyeing a mega contract with the Indian Navy for new fighters, has offered to bring the Rafale M (Marine) to India. The Indian Navy plans to procure new fighters to replace the MiG 29Ks. The Dassault Aviation is confident and wanted to showcase their capability in India itself. 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.

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Carrier-based fighters primarily come in three categories — STOVL (short take-off and vertical landing), STOBAR (Short Take-off but Arrested Recovery) and CATOBAR (catapult take-off but arrested recovery). French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle and American carriers use CATOBAR while Indian carriers — INS Vikramaditya and an indigenous one that is under trial — employ STOBAR. A fighter aircraft’s behaviour for a few seconds after ski-jump take-offs, until wing-borne flight takes place, is critical to achieve a successful launch from carriers. Rafale M’s competitor — the F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter of Boeing — had demonstrated the ski-jump capability in December 2020.

Rafale M F3-R is same as Rafale C F3-R but carrier-borne version for the French Naval Aviation, which entered service in 2001. For carrier operations, the M model has a strengthened airframe, longer nose gear leg to provide a more nose-up attitude, larger tailhook between the engines, and a built-in boarding ladder. Consequently, the Rafale M weighs about 500 kg (1,100 lb) more than the Rafale C. It is the only non-US fighter type cleared to operate from the decks of US carriers, using catapults and their arresting gear, as demonstrated in 2008 when six Rafales from Flottille 12F integrated into the USS Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Air Wing interoperability exercise.

A French Navy Rafale M fighter carrying a Talios pod prepares to launch from the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle operating in the Eastern Mediterranean