US F-18 fighters to be tested for INS Vikrant at Goa on May 21
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.
According to information available from New Delhi and Washington, the 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 around May 21. This date may depend on the availability of mid-air refuelling tankers with Boeing to fly the F-18s to Goa.
While INS Vikramaditya is soon to be joining duties after more than a yearlong overhaul and maintenance, the IAC-1 or INS Vikrant is under exhaustive sea trials and will be in action later this year with MiG-29K fighters on board for the time being.
The other fighter considered for INS Vikrant and Vikramaditya is Rafale-M, which was tested by the Indian Navy this January at the same facility in Goa with good results. The Indian Navy as of now has plans to buy 26 fighters on a government-to-government basis as the ADA designed indigenous twin-engine deck-based fighter may be ready for trials by the end of this decade.
With China building its third aircraft carrier indigenously, India needs a minimum of two aircraft carriers to project dominance in the Indo-Pacific along with other QUAD partners. The Indian plan is to station one carrier group each on the western and eastern seaboard with forward deployment capability in Andamans and Nicobar Islands.
The highly capable and versatile F-18 Super Hornet can fit into both elevators of IAC-1 with folded wings. A maximum of eight two-seater F-18 fighters are capable of launching from the deck of both Vikrant or Vikramaditya unlike Rafale-M two-seaters, which can only operate from shore-based facility and thus losing one-third of its combat capacity. This means while F-18 twin-seater fighters can be launched from carrier deck during war, the twin-seater Rafale-M fighters can only be launched from the shore.
Although the two aerial platforms under consideration of the Indian Navy can carry massive weapon loads, long-range air to air missiles and air to ground weapons, the F/A-18 Hornet can carry up to four anti-submarine missiles as compared to one by the Rafale-M fighter. Both are proven 4.5 generation fighters with F-18 having a huge successful history of combat over high seas and land.