US defence major Boeing will be sending two F-18 Super Hornet fighters next month for the Indian Navy to conduct flight trials at INS Hansa’s shore-based test facility in Goa for consideration as the main weapon on India’s new aircraft carrier INS Vikrant.
Still called as indigenous aircraft carrier-1 (IAC-1), the warship is going to be commissioned on August 15, 2022, the 75th year of Indian independence, by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Flight trials of the F-18 carrier-capable fighter on the mockup 928 feet deck of India’s sole aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya are expected at around May 21, as per information available from New Delhi and Washington. However, the availability of mid-air refueling tankers with Boeing to fly the F-18s to Goa may affect this date.
Whereas the INS Vikramaditya is about to return to duty after a year-long overhaul and servicing, the IAC-1 or INS Vikrant is undergoing extensive sea trials and will be in action later this year with MiG-29K fighters on board for the time being.
The Rafale-M, which was successfully tested by the Indian Navy in January at the same site in Goa, is the other fighter under consideration for the INS Vikrant and Vikramaditya. The Indian Navy is planning to buy 26 fighters on a government-to-government basis, as the indigenous twin-engine deck-based fighter designed by ADA could be ready for trials by the end of the decade.
With China building its third aircraft carrier on its own, India, together with the other QUAD partners, will need at least two aircraft carriers to project supremacy in the Indo-Pacific. The Indian aim is to station one carrier group on each coast, with a forward deployment capabilities in the Andamans and Nicobar Islands.
With its wings folded, the extremely competent and flexible F-18 Super Hornet can fit into both elevators of IAC-1. Unlike Rafale-M two-seaters, which can only operate from shore-based facilities and thus lose one-third of their combat potential, a maximum of eight two-seater F-18 fighters can launch from the decks of both Vikrant and Vikramaditya.
(With inputs from agencies)