Three reasons Indian Navy may buy French Rafale M fighter aircraft

At present, India has one aircraft carrier in service, namely the Vikramaditya purchased from Russia, and one is Vikrant about be commission next month.

Both Indian aircraft carriers are medium-sized carriers with a displacement of over 40,000 tons. In addition, India has planned a third aircraft carrier Vishal, which will be at least 65,000-ton nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and will use the latest electromagnetic catapults.

At present, the carrier-based aircraft used in India is the MiG 29K, a proper medium-sized third-generation aircraft. At the same time, All the delivery of French Rafale to the Indian air force has been completed. As we all know currently US F/A-18 and French Rafale M is fighting to supply their aircraft to Indian Navy.

1. Rafale M is better than MiG-29K

For India itself, equipping Rafale M will greatly enhance the combat effectiveness of its aircraft carrier. Different from the  old MiG-29K, the Rafale had a deck-based version at the beginning of its development. The aerodynamic layout design of the canard layout makes the fuselage more compact. Even if the main wing of the Rafale M is not folded, the wingspan is only a little more than 9 meters, which is not only shorter than the MiG 29K (the wingspan of the MiG 29K is 12 meters). Many large carrier-based aircraft have short wings when folded. Moreover, the length of the fuselage of the Rafale M is just over 15 meters (the length of the MiG 29K is 17.3 meters), so the area on the aircraft carrier is smaller than that of the MiG 29K. By replacing the Rafale M, India’s aircraft carrier can carry more fighters, which will not only greatly improve its combat capability, but also be more flexible in tactical formulation and execution.

MiG-29 onboard INS Vikramaditya

In addition, although the Rafale M took off by catapult on the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, it can take off normally from the 45,000-ton ski-jump aircraft carriers such as Vikrant. And with its strong power, the Rafale M can also take off from a heavy-load take-off point with maximum take-off weight. Dassault aviation has already shown this capability from Goa few month back.

The Rafale M has an empty weight of 10.2 tons, a maximum take-off weight of 22.2 tons, an internal oil of 5 tons, and a maximum bomb load of 7 tons. Although it is a little less than the 9 tons of the land-based version, it is still in the range of active carrier-based aircraft. It is very good. Even compared with the F/A-18EF, which is the main fighter of the US aircraft carrier and has a maximum take-off weight of nearly 30 tons, 700kg more than Rafale, showing the excellent airframe design of the Rafale M.

An image of Rafale M showing full load during IAC-1 trials
An image of Rafale M showing full load during IAC-1 trials

And the Rafale M was designed to perform a variety of missions, including “air defense/air superiority, anti-ship, close air support and battlefield air interdiction, suppression of enemy air defenses, precision strikes outside the fire circle, tactical and quasi-strategic reconnaissance, and even nuclear deterrence” can be said to cover everything. It is far better than the Russian MiG-29K.

Taking the mission of close air support and battlefield air interdiction as an example, the Rafale M can simultaneously mount up to 6 hammer laser-guided bombs (250 kg level), 4 Mika air-to-air missiles, and three 1500-liter auxiliary fuel tanks. The total weight exceeds 5.5 tons,

In contrast, the MiG-29K’s full-load take-off capability is weaker than that of the Rafale M. Take the following picture as an example. This MiG-29K is equipped with two R73 fighting missiles, two Kh-29 anti-ship missiles and three 1000L auxiliary fuel tanks, with an external load of about 4 tons. About 1.5 tons less than the Rafale M.

MiG-29K/MiG-29KUB Carrier Based Multirole Fighter Aircraft | Thai Military  and Asian Region

In addition to having a substantial bomb load, the Rafale M has a decent ability to return with bombs and a large landing weight of 15 tonnes. With 1.5 tonnes of internal fuel set aside in the fuselage for a potential go-around, the Rafale M may return to the aircraft carrier with a maximum of 3.3 tonnes of munitions.

The avionics level of the MiG-29K is basically the same as that of the third-generation aircraft, and its standard N010M pulsed Doppler radar enables the MiG 29K to have the ability to engage in over-the-horizon combat. The radar has a detection range of 120 kilometers for a control target with a radar reflection area of ​​5 square meters, and can track 10 targets at the same time and attack 4 of them at the same time.

Although the nose of the Rafale M is the smallest in the 4.5th generation, the T/R components of the RBE2 active phased array radar are only 836, but thanks to the “active phased array radar” in the system Compared with the inherent advantages of “pulse Doppler radar” and the fact that France is far ahead of Russia in the level of electronic technology, the performance of the RBE2 active phased array radar far exceeds that of the MiG-29K

The RBE2 active phased array radar has a detection distance of 140 kilometers for air targets with RCS=5 square meters. And Rafale M is one of the few carrier-based aircraft that uses active phased array radar. The avionics standard is 4.5th generation. It will occupy a greater advantage in over-the-horizon air combat, even with the help of active phased array radar. The unique “low interception rate feature” allows the Rafale M to gain the “one-way transparency” advantage over the MiG 29K, and it is not an exaggeration to kill the MiG-29K in seconds. In terms of close-range maneuverability, the Rafale M with a close-coupled canard layout has stronger maneuverability than the MiG-29K with a conventional aerodynamic layout.

2. Rafale M is better than Chinese J-15

India his little behind in the aircraft carrier arms race with China. In terms of carrier-based aircraft, the 4th generation MiG-29K is also behind the J-15. At present, the J-15 equipped in China is roughly equivalent to the J-11B in terms of avionics level. It is a standard 4th generation avionics, and the radar also uses a traditional pulse-Doppler radar. Although it is a rare heavy aircraft among carrier-based aircraft, the radar size is also larger than the RBE2 active phased array radar of the Rafale M, and the corresponding radar detection distance may also be farther than the Rafale M.  Also J-15 can carry only 5.5t of weapons which is 2tons less than Rafale M. Rafale M is equipped with SECTRA and have low RCS while these things are absent in J-15.


However, it is still very difficult to fight against the Rafale M in the mid-range air battle. Before the J-15B with avionics reaching the level of the 5th-generation aircraft enters service, if India purchases and equips the Rafale M fast enough, it is expected to catch up or even surpass China in the carrier-based aircraft segment. This temptation is not too big for India.

3. Rafale: A bad dream for Pakistan

During the Third Indo-Pakistani War, India’s aircraft carrier Vikrant dispatched carrier-based aircraft the day after the war to carry out continuous bombardment of ground targets of the Pakistani army in Chittagong, Bangladesh, allowing the Pakistani Air Force’s The eastern garrison quickly lost the ability to counterattack. It also directly locked Chittagong, causing the Pakistani garrison in Bangladesh to lose supplies and accelerating the collapse of the Pakistani army. Really made a great contribution to India winning the 3rd Indo-Pak.


Having tasted the sweetness, India’s enthusiasm for the aircraft carrier is another level and India naturally attaches more importance to the carrier-based aircraft as the soul of the aircraft carrier. However, the MiG-29K of the Indian aircraft carrier is not enough to suppress the Pakistan Air Force’s F-16 in terms of avionics system and mobility, not to mention J-10C which is more advanced than F-16.

Finally, modern carrier-based aircraft are all-rounders. In addition to basic air superiority operations, they also involve anti-ship/ground operations. And the strength of the Rafale M is also here. With Rafale M, the Indian Navy can not only suppress the Pakistani Air Force, but also strike at Pakistani Navy ships and port facilities, thus recreating the glory of the Third Indo-Pakistani War and by following Indian air force. So, are youthink Indian Navy will chose Rafale M?

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