Ahead of slated commissioning of the India's indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC) this year, France kicked off the demonstration of its Rafale maritime fighter jet for the Indian Navy at the shore-based test facility (SBTF) in Goa on Thursday, Trend reports citing TOI.
The US is also slated to showcase its Boeing-manufactured fighter F/A-18 at the SBTF, which has a ski-jump to resemble an aircraft carrier’s deck, in March. The twin-engine Rafale-M and F/A-18 are in contention for India’s requirement for fighters to operate from the 40,000-tonne IAC, which is to be commissioned as INS Vikrant in August.
Sources said the Navy will “assess the suitability and capability” of Rafale-M and F/A-18 during these extensive demonstrations. The Navy requires at least 26-27 carrier-capable fighters, though the final number is still being worked out for what eventually will be a government-to-government deal.
The IAF has already inducted 33 of the 36 Rafales, contracted under the Rs 59,000 crore deal inked with France in September 2016, with a squadron each being deployed at Ambala and Hasimara.
The Navy in the past has rejected the naval version of the indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft, stressing that the single-engine fighter cannot optimally operate from a carrier as of now. The indigenous development of the twin-engine deck based fighter, in turn, will take at least a decade.
India currently has only one aircraft carrier, the 44,500-tonne INS Vikramaditya, inducted from Russia for $2.33 billion in November 2013. Another $2 billion was spent on procuring 45 supersonic MiG-29K fighters to operate from its deck, but their serviceability has proved a major problem over the years.
Though the IAC will be commissioned this year, it will become fully operational only after the requisite fighter and helicopter trials are completed from its deck by around mid-2023, as was earlier reported by TOI.