France’s Rafale jets emerges as a frontrunner in race for Indian Navy fighter jet contract

France based aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation’s Rafale-M jet has emerged as the frontrunner to bag a mega contract from the Indian Navy for 27 fighters, leaving behind US based firm Boeing manufactured F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jet.

Earlier, in January 2017, the Indian Navy had released a global Request for Information (RFI) for 57 “Multi-Role Carrier Borne Fighters” (MRCBFs) to equip India’s future carriers: Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC)-I or Vikrant and IAC-2 (currently under conceptual stage) . The number was however cut short to 27 later on to be procured via the government-to-government (G2G) route. These include eight twin-seater trainer variants and 18 single-seater variants. This decision was taken owing to the indigenous ongoing programme – Twin-Engine Deck Based Fighter (TEDBF) Project – undertaken by India.  The indigenous project was approved in 2020, with the Preliminary Design Review (PDR) expected to be completed by 2023. The aircraft will be powered by the GE F414 engines, and is expected to be inducted by 2031–32.

The envisaged roles include shipborne air defense, air-to-surface attack, buddy aerial refueling, reconnaissance, electronic warfare, etc. The requirements are flexible, including single- or multi-engine, short take-off but arrested recovery (STOBAR) or catapult-assisted take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR), or both.

Armaments are to include a gun plus four beyond-visual-range air-to-air missiles and two all-aspect air-to-air missiles. Other technical capabilities and inclusions are to be assessed. The main contest is between Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Dassault Rafale-M.