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The Indian Navy’s decision to opt for the Rafale M (Marine) variant over the American F-18 E/F SuperHornet for its aircraft carriers has garnered attention in defence circles. Rear (R) Admiral Mukul Asthana, an esteemed veteran and aviation consultant, provides valuable insights into the factors that influenced this crucial decision. The choice is primarily attributed to the Rafale M’s lower footprint on both aircraft carriers, efficient hangar space utilization, and its compatibility with the lifts on the carriers.

One of the key considerations that swayed the Indian Navy towards the Rafale M was its smaller footprint on the aircraft carriers. Unlike the F-18 E/F Superhornet, the Rafale M is optimized for carrier-based operations, with dimensions that enable it to be efficiently stored on the carriers’ decks. The reduced footprint allows the Indian Navy to deploy a greater number of aircraft on each carrier, enhancing the fleet’s operational capabilities.

The Rafale M’s design is well-suited for maximizing the utilization of hangar space below the flight deck on aircraft carriers. This is critical as it enables the Navy to efficiently store and maintain the aircraft when not in use. With limited space available on carriers, the Rafale M’s ability to utilize the hangar effectively ensures that the aircraft can be quickly prepared for missions, contributing to the Navy’s operational efficiency.

The aircraft carriers rely on lifts to transport aircraft between the lower hangar decks and the upper flight decks. The Rafale M’s compatibility with the lifts simplifies the aircraft deployment process, enabling smooth operations during launch and recovery. This feature further solidified the Rafale M’s position as the preferred choice for the Indian Navy.

The F-18 E/F Superhornet, widely used on US aircraft carriers, boasts twice the displacement of Indian carriers. Due to this significant size difference, the number of aircraft that can be deployed on each carrier is limited. Additionally, the Rafale M and the Indian Navy’s current aircraft, the Mig-29K, have a Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW) of under 25 tons, while the F-18 E/F Superhornet, being a heavier aircraft, has an MTOW close to 30 tons. The lighter MTOW of the Rafale M allows for greater flexibility in carrier operations.

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