On September 2 in Kochi, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will officially launch the country’s first aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant which will be combat-ready by May 2023.
Several Military Lovers and Military Experts are having a close look at which carrier-based aircraft the Indian navy will finally choose. The United States has been very active in this Indian carrier-based aircraft plan and has repeatedly sent Super Hornet carrier-based aircrafts to India for testing and evaluation procedures. Therefore, many international media houses have also stated that India’s purchase of the US Super Hornet is now a sure thing. And there is a recent news that India has determined to buy the American Super Hornet, India’s first domestically-built aircraft carrier Vikrant has been set to enter into active service with the Indian Navy in the next few days, and India seems to be very much interested in buying the F-18 Super Hornet aircrafts along with state-of-the-art weapon systems such as the latest versions of the AIM-9 Sidewinder and AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles. So what is the reason behind India’s deep interest in the American Super Hornets?
India has a long-term history of operating aircraft carriers and carrier-based aircrafts, first the Sea Harriers, then the Russian Mikoyan MiG-29Ks, and now maybe the American Super Hornets. The United States is very much interested in selling its best weapons such as the Super Hornet to India, in a process to deepen the relations between India and America and to counter the emerging threat of China. There are some recent reports that claims that the F-18 Super Hornet was seen on the New Indian Aircraft Carrier.
Although the total displacement of the INS Vikrant is not very high if compared to the Supercarriers of the United States Navy, but warships of more than 40,000 tons do have the ability to use the Super Hornet carrier aircraft. The U.S. version of the Super Hornet is an advanced carrier-based aircraft that takes off by steam or electromagnetic catapult, thanks to its impressive aerodynamic layout, but the Super Hornet carrier-based aircraft can completely make use of the skid or ski-jump on the aircraft carrier Vikrant of India and easily take off from the flight deck. This means that aircraft carriers of the same level can use advanced carrier-based aircraft such as the Super Hornet, which is of considerable significance for using the full potential of ski-jump equipped aircraft carriers.
So for India, is it really better to choose the Super Hornet carrier-based aircraft than the Rafale-M carrier-based aircraft? This has to start from the core of India’s development of aircraft carriers. On the surface, the greatest significance of India’s development of aircraft carriers is to make the Indian Navy a powerful force. India also wants to have a good control on the Indian Ocean. But in fact, it is very difficult to control the Indian Ocean, and if you really want to control the Indian Ocean, you must be able to compete with China. According to the current situation, the advantage of the Super Hornet fighter compared to the Rafale-M is somewhat good. However, both belongs to the improved 4++ generation. Both air combat and attack capabilities are on the same level.
Many people believes that if India could introduce the Rafale-M carrier-based aircraft, it might have an advantage in terms of logistics and maintenance because the Indian Air Force is already equipped with an airforce version of the Rafale fighter jets, both of which have the same origin. The Dassault Rafale Multirole fighter has small size and does not come with folding wings, but the Super Hornet has a large aerodynamic structure and has folding wings mechanism which helps in reducing space on the flight deck and easily transport and store the aircraft on the aircraft hanger.
If you look a little farther, then it is wise to choose the Rafale M carrier aircraft, but if you look a little further, the Rafale M is not suitable.
Although, whether India chooses the Dassault Rafale-M or the American F-18 Super Hornet, the Indian Navy will gain clear technological advantage on its two main enemies, China and Pakistan, the Pakistani Navy even do not have a good fighter that can be comparable to the Current Main Carrier-Based Fighter of the Indian Navy, the Mikoyan MiG-29Ks.
When talking about the PLA Navy, it currently operates the Shenyang J-15 Carrier-Based Multirole Fighter, this aircraft is a reverse-engineered variant of the Russian Su-33 “Sea Flanker”. Although technically the Russian Su-33 and the Indian operated Mig-29K are superior to the Chinese J-15.
However, China has recently revealed its new carrier-based stealth fighter, known as the J-35, a fighter designed to counter the American F-35C Lightning II. This new fighter can be a potential opponent of the Rafale-M and the F-18 Super Hornet. But it is not a threat for now, because it will take approximately 5 to 10 years for the Chinese Navy to induct this aircraft into its active service, this aircraft is still in its design phase.
Although American weapons has a high price, but they are technologically advanced as compared to the weapon systems of any another nation. So overall, the introduction of American F-18 Super Hornets will give a great boost to the capabilities of the Indian Navy and will allow the Indian Navy to use the full potential of the INS Vikrant aircraft carrier, but the induction of the Super Hornets may have a bad effect on the ongoing multiple fighter aircraft projects of India.