The fight to deck fighter planes on India’s first indigenously designed and locally built aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, appears to be heating up.

French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu is set to board the INS Vikrant in Kochi to “highlight the importance” of Indo-French naval cooperation for security and stability in the Indo-Pacific.

Dassault Aviation’s Rafale maritime fighter is being offered by France for carrier operations on the largest ship ever built in India’s maritime history. These carrier-borne fighters are currently operational from the flight deck of the French Navy’s flagship, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle.

On the other hand, Washington is marketing its Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet Block III to the Indian Navy as the most advanced, combat-proven, multi-role frontline naval fighter.

Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of Navy Carlos Del Toro arrived in Kochi, Kerala, a state in southern Indian, to visit the Indian Navy’s Southern Naval Command and tour the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier, demonstrating that the US-India defence partnership remains a pillar of a free and open Indo-Pacific region (IAC).

The top US official was “incredibly impressed” with the cutting-edge aircraft carrier, which allows India to join the elite group of five nations that have built an aircraft carrier and demonstrates a continued commitment to improving sea control capabilities.

“I am looking forward to our U.S. Navy ships operating with Vikrant in the foreseeable future where we will we continue to leverage a foundation of shared values and mutual interests in order to maintain the international norms that ensure not only Indian and U.S. national security, but our economic security,” he said in a statement after returning back to the States.

INS Vikrant has been built with high degree of automation for machinery operation, ship navigation and survivability, and has been designed to accommodate an assortment of fixed wing and rotary aircraft.

The warship would be able to operate an air wing of 30 aircraft, including Russian MIG-29K fighter jets, Kamov-31 multi-role helicopters, and indigenously manufactured Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH) as well as the naval version of the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA).

The IAC is outfitted with a ski-jump for launching aircraft and a set of ‘arrester wires’ for onboard recovery using a novel aircraft operation mode known as Short Take-Off but Arrested Landing (STOBAR).

According to Boeing, the Super Hornet, which was designed from the start for carrier operations, can operate from Indian Navy aircraft carriers and meets STOBAR performance requirements.

The Block III Super Hornet, the US Navy’s frontline fighter, has already been deployed with over 800 aircraft delivered around the world. According to the company, work is currently underway to upgrade over 500 Super Hornets to the latest Block III variant, which provides opportunities for naval aviation cooperation between the US and Indian navies, acting as a force multiplier for the Indian Navy as it interfaces with assets such as the P-8I.

According to Boeing, the F/A-18 Super Hornet is fully compliant with the INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant aircraft carriers and will be able to operate on the decks, hangars, and lifts of the Indian Navy’s aircraft carriers.

As the Indian Air Force (IAF) adds the 36th fighter jet to its Rafale fleet next month, Paris, too, is ready to strengthen bilateral defence cooperation in the military aeronautical sector with New Delhi, highlighting its aerospace industry’s operational performance, technological quality, and competitiveness.

Dassault Aviation’s Rafale-M flew from the Shore-based Test Facility (SBTF) at Goa’s Hansa naval air station earlier this year, demonstrating its ability to conduct operations from Indian aircraft carriers.

To comply with India’s ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ policy, France is also attempting to establish a full-fledged aero-defence manufacturing eco-system in the country by establishing a manufacturing facility in the Mihan SEZ adjacent to Nagpur International Airport.

Lecornu, like Del Toro, would attend high-level meetings in New Delhi, including meetings with National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar.

“The Armed Forces Minister’s visit to India reaffirms France’s engagement in the Indo-Pacific and India’s centrality in the French strategy for the region,” opined the French Defence Ministry.

He went on to add, “It comes in a year that has seen an acceleration of the French and Indian armed forces’ endeavors towards even greater interoperability through joint air, navy, and army exercises, such as IMEX 22 (March), Varuna (March-April), and the recently-concluded Garuda (October-November)”.