India’s hunt for MMRCA 2.0:- Rafale v/s. FA-18

So, the stage is all set for yet another round of gruelling selection trials to fix upon the next major aircraft for the Guardians of the Skies. The MMRCA 2.0, as it’s fondly called, is another take on the MMRCA competition held a few years back to procure new fighter aircraft to strengthen the squadrons of Indian Air Force.

In MMRCA 1.0- F-16E, F/A-18E, EF Typhoon and Rafale, all were very good in terms of performance. In terms of best performance, I think the Rafale was best overall. In terms of avionics suite, it would be a close between F/A-18E and Rafale.

The place where F-16 and F/A-18E were better was Cost. Both were much more cost effective than Typhoon and Rafale. The problem was Rafale & EF Typhoon were much more costly. This was the prime reason Rafale’s procurement was cut from 126 to 36. Had F-16E or F/A-18E were chosen, this wouldn’t have happen.

After the cut-off date passed by media reports in India confirmed that same defeated Air warriors of the past tenders are once again entering the arena to battle it out among themselves to secure orders for 110 units of Make in India fighter which actually nobody knows how long this season will last due to India’s love for tons of paper works and hectic documentation which is common in all high budget Military procurement tenders .

Six of the world’s premier fighter aircraft vendors – American companies Boeing and Lockheed Martin, Russian Aircraft Corporation, Dassault of France, Swedish firm Saab and European consortium, Eurofighter GmbH – have submitted responses to an Indian “request for information” (RFI), kicking off the purchase of 110 fighters for the Indian Air Force (IAF).

F/A-18 Super Hornet

The Boeing’s carrier-launched Super Hornet is considered as an all-weather fighter and attack aircraft. The twin-engine F/A-18 E/F, based on F/A -18 C/D, is a mid-wing, multi-mission tactical aircraft first rolled out in 1995 and entered service with the US Navy in 1999. On February 20, 2018, after a gap of 20 months, the first Super Hornet rolled out of the production line. The aircraft is expected to remain in service till 2030s.

Dassault Rafale is an omnirole aircraft by design able to execute many missions like :Air-defense / air-superiority,Anti-Access/Area Denial,Reconnaissance,Close air support,Air-to-ground precision strike / interdiction,Anti-ship attacks,Nuclear deterrence,Buddy-buddy refueling.

Radar and sensors

F/A-18 Super Hornet:

The Super Hornet is equipped with the APG-73 radar manufactured by Raytheon. Raytheon’s (AESA) fire control radar increases the F/A-18’s air-to-air target detection and tracking range, and provide higher resolution air-to-ground mapping at longer ranges.

F/A-18F aircraft is also fitted with the Raytheon SHARP multi-function reconnaissance pod, which replaces USN Tactical Airborne Reconnaissance Pod (TARPS).

The new Block 3 Super Hornet features capabilities that enhance the Block II’s survivability by including an advanced cockpit system, long-range detection with Infrared Search and Track and longer range with conformal fuel tanks. This allows the SH to carrier a lethal weapons load more ethan 100 miles farther than a Block II, with a sophisticated air to air sensor capable of dealing with a future threat.

Both F-16E & F/A-18E have better radar and greater range on internal fuel/CFTs, wider range of integrated armament (Air-Surface) than Rafale. The performance difference between them and Rafale are definitely not worth the difference in their cost. Every aircraft has an envelope where it performs the best: the F/A-18 has very high Angle of Attack, ~50 degree (compared to most non-Thrust vectoring aircraft having <30 degree AoA). This gives the pilot better nose-pointing authority and low-speed performance.

SHARP is capable of simultaneous airborne and ground reconnaissance and has sensors manufactured by Recon/Optical Inc.

Rafale :

The Rafale is typically outfitted with the Thales RBE2 passive electronically scanned multi-mode radar. Thales claims to have achieved unprecedented levels of situational awareness through the earlier detection and tracking of multiple air targets for close combat and long-range interception, as well as real-time generation of three-dimensional maps for terrain-following and the real-time generation of high resolution ground maps for navigation and targeting.

The RBE2 AA active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar is planned to replace the existing passively scanned RBE2. The RBE2 AA is reported to deliver a greater detection range, improved reliability and reduced maintenance demands over the preceding radar. By early 2014, the first Air Force front-line squadron will receive Rafales equipped with the AESA radar; the French Navy is slated to receive AESA-equipped Rafales from 2013.


F/A-18 Super Hornet:

The aircraft’s power is provided by two F414-GE-400 turbofan engines from General Electric. The engines are an advanced derivative of the GE F404 engines installed on the Hornet.

Rafale :-

The Rafale is fitted with the Snecma M88 engine, capable of providing up to 50 kN (11,250 lbf) of dry thrust and 75 kN (16,900 lbf) with afterburners. The M-88 enable the Rafale to supercruise at speeds of up to Mach 1.4 while carrying a loadout of six MBDA MICA air-to-air missiles. As of 2007, a thrust vectoring variant of the engine designated as M88-3D was also under development.


Block 3 or Advanced Super Hornet has even lower front-RCS, slightly better range and improved kinematic performance. It has Enclosed Weapons Pod, Conformal Fuel tanks, internal IRST and better ESM suite. Most modern IRST/Radars can detect J-20 or any LO platform, they’re not invisible – the real question is from how long you can detect them and when can you do something about it.

Rafale also makes extensive use of radar-absorbent material (RAM) in the form of paints and other materials. RAM forms a saw-toothed pattern on the wing and canard trailing edges, for instance. The aircraft is designed to, so that its untreated radar signature is concentrated in a few strong “spikes,” which are then suppressed by the selective use of RAM.

275% of Rafale surface structure and 30% of its mass are made of composites. Besides, the high amount of composites and RAM materials, ducted air intakes.Su-30 MKI due to its larger size lets out a huge RCS of 10 meter square ( unarmed ) and 20 meter square ( armed ).


Payload: French Air Force versions of the Rafale have a remarkable 14 hard points capable of handling 20,900lbs of ordinance.  Of these, four (two wingtip, two flush with the rear fuselage) are usually dedicated to air-to-air missiles, leaving 10 hard points for fuel, bombs, or air-to-ground missiles.  The Rafale is capable of handling nuclear ordinance as well.


The Super Hornet is capable of handling a slightly lower, but still impressive 17,750lbs worth of weapons.  It is slightly more limited in how it carries it however, with only 11 total hard points, including two wingtip missile rails and two conformal hard points built for the AIM-120 AMRAAM.

Production in India

Boeing has offered to setup an entire assembly line for the F/A-18s in India. And if this means that even the engines for the F/A-18s will be manufactured in India, which will be a very good value proposition. This is because the General Electric F-414 engines that are used by the F/A-18 Super Hornets will also power the Tejas Mk2 which is now under development. If the engines are made in India, this will benefit both the Super Hornets and the LCA program and there will also be the added benefit of availability of life cycle support within India for the engines for both the fighters. This would mean huge cost savings, since a single fighter jet uses 3.5 engines over its lifetime on an average. Assuming that the Indian Air Force would decide to procure around 100 twin-engined F/A-18s and that both the IAF and the Navy will eventually buy around 120 plus single-engined LCA Mk2 fighters, the demand will be for a minimum of 1000 GE F-414 jet engines throughout the lifetime of both the fighters – providing economies of scale.

Boeing has partnered with state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) and Mahindra Defense Systems to manufacture F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets in India both for Indian Air Force and Indian Navy. Boeing interestingly also has participated in ADA issued tender asking proposals from vendors to manufacture Technology Demonstrator for AMCA Fighter jets.

Boeing has liked F/A-18 program to India’s AMCA Fighter jets program and has offered to manufacture this jet for India at the same plant where F/A-18 will be manufactured if their proposal is accepted by India.

Dassault Aviation

French aerospace major will be back with Rafale multirole fighter jet and has tied up with Reliance Industries and this joint venture has been named as Dassault Reliance Aerospace Limited (DRAL ) manufacturing which is coming up in the Mihan SEZ adjoining Nagpur International Airport.

The DRAL facility at present will manufacture several components of the offset obligation connected to the purchase of 36 Rafale Fighters from France, signed between the two Governments in September 2016. Dassault and Reliance are confident that previous order will allow them to clinch the deal and it will eventually also manufacture 110 Dassault Rafale Fighters for Indian Air Force and is also eyeing orders from Indian Navy.

Taking the Long View

Both aircraft are excellent “Jack-of-all-trades” aircraft, with the Rafale coming out slightly ahead due to its stronger emphasis on air-superiorty without sacrificing the strike role.  The Rafale would have likely done even better with the addition of an HMD, while the Super Hornet could really use the upgraded engines and enclosed weapon pods of the Advanced Super Hornet concept.

Yes, the Super Hornet is indeed a cheaper aircraft but The Rafale on the other hand, would be a fantastic selection For Indian Airforce.





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