Tag Archives: Vikramaditya

Rafale-ly speaking…

The Hellenic Air Force will begin operating its new (to them) French-made Dassault Rafale fighters after January 19 when a half-dozen aircraft are expected to arrive home at their Tanágra Air Force Base. Two dual-seat Rafales will be joined by four single-seat Rafales for the ferry flight home this week. Ultimately 18 Rafales, at a cost of $2.35B (US), will augment advanced F-16C/D Blk52s, as well as older Mirage 2000-5 models, and fill the gap left with the looming retirement of the country’s last 33 elderly F-4E Phantoms.

The first Rafale of the Hellenic Air Force (HAF) was formally delivered last July. This is one of the 12 refurbished ex-French Air Force Rafale B models configured to the latest F3R standard, that will be delivered to the HAF along with six newbuild fighters by 2023. (Photo: Dassault Aviation/C Cosmao)

The Greeks really like Dassault, having a nearly 50-year relationship with the company that includes ordering 40 Mirage F1s in 1974, then 40 Mirage 2000s in 1985, and finally 15 Mirage 2000-5s in the year 2000.

More Rafales on more carriers?

Speaking of Rafales, the Indian Navy is testing the Rafale M (carrier variant F3-R) at their ashore jump ramp facility in Goa with an eye to buying at least two dozen of the little fighters for use from the country’s new STOBAR indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC), INS Vikrant, set to commission later this year.

Keep in mind that the Indian Navy has had 60 years of continuous fixed-wing carrier operations under their belt, including combat use. 

Rafael M calendar illustration

Odds are, as many as 100 Rafale Ms could be bought if the price is right, with the French birds replacing cranky Russian-made MiG-29K fighters already in use on India’s equally cranky 45,000-ton Gorshkov-class flattop, INS Vikramaditya, and providing squadrons for the new Vikrant and planned follow-on INS Vishal, the latter ship expected in the 2030s. Each of the new carriers is to be capable of holding 36 fixed-wing fighters in addition to ASW helicopters and liaison aircraft.

The Indian Navy has 45 MiG-29KUB carrier-based multirole fighters and was looking to acquire 57 more, with the possibility of building them locally, but that is increasingly unlikely. Plan A right now seems to be fielding variants of the F/A-18E or the French Rafale M instead.

The Indians are also looking at the larger F-18E/F Super Hornet, but, as the IAF already ordered 36 Rafale B/Cs and are standing them up in two operational squadrons this year, don’t hold your breath. However, as the Indians are buying 22 MH-60Rs from Sikorsky, with the blessing of the USN, for ASW use, anything is possible.

45,000 tons of Courageous

The Indian Navy, which officially dates back to the 1947 split with the British Empire and carries a curious mix of traditions from the Royal Navy and doctrine from the Soviets/Russians, saw an important milestone last week when INS Vikrant (R11), whose name roughly translates to “Courageous” took to the sea for builder’s trials, celebrating 60 continuous years of carrier operations.

The country’s first indigenous aircraft carrier and the largest warship to be built in the country, Vikrant is roughly the size of an American LHA but importantly uses a STOBAR aircraft launching system with a ski-jump and angled flight deck and can operate a mix of 40 MiG-29Ks and ASW helicopters.

Nice to see the old Sea King still around

She also has a serious self-defense armament (another ode to Russian carrier ops) including 64 Barak 8 missiles, four OTO 76mm guns, and four Russian AK-630 CIWS mounts. Powered by a quartet of GE LM2500 turbines, which are standard on just about every American destroyer and cruiser, she has an eclectic mix of Italian and Israeli electronics.

60 Years of Indian Carriers

India has been in the carrier game since 1961, when the original INS Vikrant, formerly the British light carrier HMS Hercules, was commissioned. Vikrant was later augmented in 1987 by the Centaur-class carrier INS Viraat (ex-HMS Hermes), which served for 30 years.

Vikrant in 1984 after many years of hard service. You can note the Sea Harriers, Sea King helicopters, Sea Hawks, and Alize aircraft on deck

Doing the math, India was a single-carrier operator for 26 years, then operated two flattops side-by-side for a decade before downsizing between 1997 and 2012. With the commissioning of the completely rebuilt INS Vikramaditya (ex- Russian carrier Baku/Admiral Gorshkov), the country then again operated a two-carrier fleet for five years. 

INS Viraat and INS Vikramaditya in 2013. At the time, India had arguably the second-highest amount of operational naval tonnage in the world behind the U.S.

Since 2017, when Hermes/Viraat was finally retired, they have been back down to a single carrier but that will change once Vikrant officially joins the fleet next year.

Also, the “big deck” Vikramaditya enabled the Indians to retire their ancient early model Sea Harriers and go with MiG-29 carrier variants, of which they have some 45 in operation. Sure, they are not as capable of a carrier-based fighter as the F-18E or F-35B, but they are still a step up from Harriers.

Plus, keep in mind that the very professional Indians have probably the best track record in using MiGs in combat in the world. Just ask Pakistan. 

The Indian Navy has 45 MiG-29KUB carrier-based multirole fighters and is looking to acquire 57 more, with the possibility of building them locally. There is also talk of fielding variants of the F/A18E or the French Rafale instead.