Indian Navy

Why Rafale-M Gained a Place In The Indian Naval Air Arm?

French defense firm Dassault Aviation is spearheading its momentum with the Ministry of Defense for the reportedly procurement of 26 Rafale-M fighter jets, implying the fact that the French aircraft has beaten the only contender, Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet for the Naval Air Arm off-the-deck operations from the INS Vikrant. This news brought the limelight back to the Multi Role Carrier Borne Fighter (MRCBF) tender where the Indian Navy opted for the procurement for these aforementioned naval fighters. While most of the minute details of the evaluation remain classified, the jets are rigorously marked on their physical parameters, features, conditions of use, deck maneuvering, fuel system, flight controls, avionics, arrestor hook specifications, man-machine interface, escape systems, radio communications, navigation and attack systems, skill ceiling, weapon load and armaments, accessibility service requirements etc. according to the MRCBF draft. But considering the general public’s minds, we can surely analyze on what really went towards Rafale-M’s way to result in this game-changing order.

Dassault Rafale
Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet
  • The Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet is a twin-engine, multirole fighter jet which is the latest iterative of the original McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet. It can conduct day & night strikes with precision-guided weapons, escort missions, close air support roles, suppression of enemy air defences, reconnaissance, forward air control, and maritime strikes. Rafale-M, a carrier-based version of the original Dassault Rafale, is a French twin engine, canard-delta wing, multirole fighter aircraft designed to perform air supremacy, ground support missions, reconnaissance, anti-ship strikes, and nuclear deterrence missions.

Also Read, Rafale M Vs TEDBF: A Comparison

  • The Rafale M and the F/A-18 Super Hornet were called for the Ski-jump carrier simulation test at the shore-based INS Hansa test facility in Goa, which actually simulates the deck of the INS Vikramaditya aircraft carrier of the Indian navy. The primary evaluation of this simulation is the ability of the jets to take off by ski-jumping off a ramp. It is a direct representation of the Short Take-Off but Arrested Recovery (STOBAR) system, which is deployed on the two Indian Navy aircraft carriers. Both the Rafale-M and the F/A-18 Super Hornet work in the CATOBAR system of the French aircraft carrier, Charles de Gaulle and the US Navy supercarriers.
The Ski ramp at INS Hansa where the Hornet is preparing for takeoff
  • The Classified results of this evaluation were sent to the Indian Ministry of Defense, where the government was to review them before the final decision. But there were reports already according to several Indian media outlets that the Rafale-M was apparently the winner between the two. Later, an unnamed official told the Hindustan Times “The Rafale M has been found to be a better fit for the navy’s requirements”. These reports were evident for experts to predict that the Rafale-M was ahead of the Super Hornet. Moreover, the Indian Armed Forces are no stranger to the Rafale as the Indian Air Force already has 36 of them in service, all of which were delivered by the start of 2022. According to Dassault in order to facilitate the maintenance of future Rafale M aircraft, the latter would have 85% of elements common with the IAF’s Rafales. Simulation tests and respective evaluation are one of the bigger aspects of determining the operational capability of these one-of-a-kind beasts, but let’s deep dive into some of the other factors which made India lean towards the Rafale.
  • Size issue: Rafale has a wingspan of 35.9 ft while the Super Hornet has a 44.8 ft. wingspan but unlike the former one, the Hornet has the foldable wing capability (after folding it comes to 30.5 ft.), thus taking much less space. Despite this, the Rafale-M has a smaller airframe than the F/A-18.
  • Engine capability: The two General Electric F414-GE-400 turbofan engines of the Super Hornet produce 58 kN each, extending to 98 kN with afterburner, while the two Snecma M88-4e turbofan engines of the Rafale-M fall a little behind, producing 50.04 kN each extending to 75 kN with afterburners.
  • Speed: Rafales have a much higher rate of climb of 60,000 ft/min compared to the Hornet’s 44,882 ft/min, and they are reportedly much better in high-altitude situations than the Hornet. The Super Hornet has a maximum speed of Mach 1.6 while the Rafale can reach up to Mach 1.8. Furthermore, it can even supercruise at a speed of Mach 1.4.
  • Supercruise: One of the most important flight factors is that the Rafale-M can supercruise while the Super Hornet, cannot; a tough feat itself that only a few jets are capable of. The Supercruise of a jet aircraft can be defined as a sustained supersonic flight without using their afterburners. This dominating feature can be of help in many situations, especially in high-risk scenarios. Up to 80% more thrust’ will help a lot in escaping enemy-packed territories or high-risk missile zones. Despite spending a lot more fuel than subsonic flights, supercruise is much more fuel efficient than supersonic-full afterburner flights; and that extra thrust and energy allow pilots more room to evade missiles, be harder to track on sensors, getting targeted via guns/missiles, reach target areas quicker and also faster exfiltration.
  • Maneuverability: In comparison to the Super Hornet, the Rafale is a monstrously agile beast. It can easily withstand 9G forces while can also pull off 11G in emergency conditions. Unlike the F18’s trapezoidal wing, the Rafales have a delta configuration, paired with their frontal canards on each side, which greatly helps in agile manoeuvers. The canards also help in lift generation along with their wings. These features enable the Rafale-M to overcome tight curves and high angle of attack maneuvering.
  • Weapon Prowess: The Rafale is considered as a game changer by strategic analysts because apart from its cruising range and agility, it comes with a highly potent set of weapons, considered very tough to rival by any of India’s neighbors. F/A-18 Super Hornet only has 11 hardpoints with a maximum payload capacity of 17,750 lb (8050 kg), while the Rafale M is a superior platform with 13 hardpoints and a payload capacity of 20,900 lb (9,500 kg) fuel and ordnance combinations. The most famous of Rafale-M’s weapons is the MBDA Meteor active radar guided Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air missile (BVRAAM) whose solid-fueled ramjet allows the missile to cruise at speeds over Mach 4 and provides the missile with thrust and mid-course acceleration to target intercept. It has more flight time, maneuverability and even dwarfs the mighty Raytheon-produced AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) of the Super Hornet.
  • Then comes the MBDA Storm Shadow (SCALP), a turbojet-powered, low-observable, long-range, air-launched cruise missile, which has a range of around 560 km. This fire-and-forget missile has integrated GPS-guided terrain mapping to the target area and has exceptional precision and accuracy. Apart from these two, Rafale-M also boasts the medium-range MBDA MICA air-to-air missile and the AASM Hammer family of weapons.
  • Also, another game changer fact is that the French government has accepted the fact that India will include these jets into the nuclear triad, and being nuclear-capable monsters, the Rafales will have no issue in being deployed for nuclear deterrence missions.

Also Read, In-Depth Analysis- Twin Engine Deck Based Fighter (TEDBF): Part-1

  • Targeting Pod: These are target designating tools on an attack aircraft used for identifying enemy targets and guiding the precision-guided weapons toward the target. The Rafale-M has a Thales-developed Damocles, a 3rd-generation high-performance, long-range, laser-integrated target designator, boasting exceptional reconnaissance capability with the instant transmission of imagery to ground stations. It is also capable of guiding laser weapons to their extreme range of 16 km, and identifying armored vehicle targets at 27km while also being able to conduct post-strike analysis at the same range. Unfortunately, the F/A-18 Super Hornet is still devoid of an advanced and equally capable targeting pod, while testing of Northrop Grumman’s LITENING targeting pod is undergoing.
  • A Unique feat: The Rafale-M holds the record of being the only foreign fighter aircraft to be completely capable of operating from the US Navy supercarriers. Incidentally, it also became the only foreign fighter to get engines replaced on a US aircraft carrier on 4 June 2010 aboard the USS Harry S. Truman supercarrier.
Armed to the teeth – Super Hornet
Armed to the Teeth – Rafale

Well, enough of these technicalities. Now, why does Dassault Aviation brand the Rafale as an omnirole fighter?

The Rafale M can carry out missions like none other. They are capable of air superiority, anti-access/area denial missions, close air support, reconnaissance, dynamic targeting, interdiction missions, anti-ship attacks, air-to-ground strikes, nuclear deterrence, and buddy-buddy refueling. The advanced “Fly-by-Wire” Flight Control System (FCS) provides longitudinal stability and superior handling performance. This 4.5-generation aircraft has an extremely low radar cross-section. Composite materials cover up most of the part of the airframe which is also responsible for a 40% increase in the maximum take-off weight to empty weight ratio compared to traditional aluminum or titanium airframes. Showing versatility in its missions, ability to interoperate with allies and real-time communication with their systems, flexibility to conduct several different missions in the course of the same sortie, and the capability of advanced electronic warfare and survival in high-risk environments are just some of the many perks.

While the Indian Navy is on its journey of maximization yet indigenization, more and more varied weapon systems will come to our hands. Our decorated aircraft carriers, destroyers, and attack submarines ruling the Indian waters while our Naval Air Arm soars up to the skies, flaunting the monstrous Rafale-M squadrons will indeed be a force to be reckoned with.


Subhodip Das

An Average Mechanical Engineering student from Jadavpur University, Kolkata who dreams of having a fully customized AR-15 draped on the wall....very childish ain't it ! Well apart from that, Art is the one absolute thing I practically live for.

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