Rafale M fighter deal: How Indian Navy’s Rafale will be different from IAF’s

India and France are scheduled to begin contract negotiations in the over Rs 50,000-crore deal for 26 Rafale Marine, or Rafale M, fighter jets on May 30, after the arrival of a high-level French team.

If and when completed, the Rafale M deal will see the Indian Navy operate these aircraft from its two aircraft carriers – INS Vikrant and INS Vikramaditya, news agency ANI reported, citing defence ministry officials.

The news of the impending negotiations was also broken by the agency on Tuesday.

At present, the INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant operate with the Russian Mikoyan MiG-29K fighter aircraft.

Latest developments in Rafale M fighter jet deal

The Indian government will try to complete the negotiations with France and sign the agreement for the jets by the end of this financial year, added the report, citing unnamed government sources.

In a further indication of the deal’s urgency, the report said that the Navy Chief has directed his team to ensure that the deal’s timeframe is reduced significantly to ensure early induction of the aircraft.

Having carried out a detailed study of the French bid, submitted in December, India will reportedly conduct tough negotiations with French government officials for the government-to-government contract for the Rafale M.

How is Rafale M different from IAF Rafale?

France completed the delivery of all 36 Rafale jets to the Indian Air Force (IAF) in December 2022.

India had ordered the combat aircraft from France in a Rs 59,000-crore government-to-government deal in September 2016.

For its navy, India selected the Rafale M over the American-made Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet.

One of the advantages of going for the Rafale M is its commonality with the IAF’s Rafale jets, which could reduce costs related to spares and maintenance.

“The Air Force single-seat Rafale C, the Air Force two-seat Rafale B, and the Navy single-seat Rafale M feature maximum airframe and equipment commonality, and very similar mission capabilities,” says Dassault Aviation, the aircraft’s manufacturer.

Both the IAF version and Rafale M share about 80 per cent of their components.

All the Rafale variants also belong to the 4+ generation of fighter aircraft, meaning that they are outfitted with advanced avionics and some capabilities that would be found on fifth-generation jets.

However, the Rafale M aircraft that could be bought for the navy under the latest deal will still possess some key differences compared to the IAF’s Rafale variant.

The Rafale M is a single-seat aircraft capable of performing a wide range of missions, including deep strikes, air defence, and reconnaissance.

Like its IAF cousin, the Rafale M is also described as an “omnirole aircraft” by Dassault Aviation, meaning that it can conduct both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions simultaneously.

However, the Rafale M is designed to operate from aircraft carriers.

This is possible because of various modifications, including a reinforced undercarriage, strengthened landing gears, and a longer and strengthened nose.

The Rafale M’s reinforced undercarriage allows it to handle the stresses of landing on a carrier deck.

It also possesses a tail hook for arrested landings and what’s described as a “jump strut” nosewheel that only extends during short takeoffs, including when the aircraft is launched using a catapult.

The Rafale M also has a built-in ladder that allows the pilot to access its cockpit from the carrier deck, along with a carrier-based landing system. The Rafale M also has foldable wings due to the limited real estate on aircraft carriers.

Due to these modifications, the Rafale M is also slightly heavier than the air force Rafale.

Both the IAF’s existing Rafales and the latest standard of the Rafale M are equipped with an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, the RBE2 radar developed by Thales.

However, the radar on the Rafale M is optimised for maritime operations.

Both variants are also equipped with the same Thales SPECTRA internal electronic warfare system, which is also optimised for maritime operations on the Rafale M.

The Rafale M also has a new system for syncing its inertial navigation system to external equipment.

Both the air force variant and the Rafale M can carry armaments like the long-range Meteor air-to-air (A2A) missile, MICA A2A missile, HAMMER air-to-surface stand-off weapon, SCALP long-range stand-off missile, AM39 EXOCET anti-ship missile, and laser-guided bombs.

Can the Rafale M operate from Indian carriers?

Originally, the Rafale M was designed to operate from CATOBAR–equipped aircraft carriers.

CATOBAR stands for catapult-assisted take-off, barrier-arrested recovery. Such a system uses catapults to launch aircraft from the carrier and arrestor wires during their landing.

France operates the Rafale M from its only aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, which is equipped with the CATOBAR system.

However, the Indian Navy operates two 45,000-tonne aircraft carriers, the INS Vikramaditya and the INS Vikrant.

Both are conventionally-powered carriers that use ski-jump ramps to assist aircraft take-offs.

This challenge has been overcome, with the Rafale M having successfully demonstrated its ability to carry out a ski-jump from the shore-based test facility (SBTF) at INS Hansa, in Goa.

The Rafale M was selected by the Indian Navy after rigorous testing at the SBTF facility in Goa.

The developments in the Rafale M deal come days after China’s third aircraft carrier, the Fujian, returned after completing its eight-day maiden test voyage.

At present, China operates two conventionally-powered, ski-jump ramp aircraft carriers, the 60,000 tonne-class Liaoning and Shandong.

Unlike its predecessors, the 80,000 tonne-class Fujian is equipped with three electromagnetic catapults to launch aircraft.

Once operational, the Fujian will be able to deploy up to 70 aircraft, including J-15 fighter aircraft.

A catapult launch system allows a carrier to deploy fixed-wing airborne early warning aircraft, launch heavier aircraft and to do so more efficiently.

A catapult launch also means the carrier’s jets can carry heavier payloads.

The movement in the Rafale M deal also comes amid an Asian aircraft carrier race.

Source: https://www.business-standard.com/external-affairs-defence-security/news/rafale-m-fighter-deal-how-will-navy-s-rafale-be-different-from-air-force-s-124052901257_1.html