The aircraft carrier is a powerful metric to gauge the naval superiority of a country and hence remains the flagship of the most powerful navies of the world. The U.S. Navy tops the list having deployed the most advanced aircraft carriers to date. Coming in close, the UK has two powerful Queen Elizabeth-class carriers that have been serving in the Royal Navy since 2017.
Question is, what makes an aircraft carrier so important and lethal on the seas?
Aircraft carriers play a major role in winning decisive naval battles and also carry and launch military fighters, aircraft, and helicopters from their deck. Therefore it follows that aircraft operating from these war machines are suitably capable, effective and compliant with the technical operations of the carrier.
The Dassault Rafale, the F-35B Lightning II, and the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet are the best of their class. but which amongst them, comes out at the top?
The French Rafale Marine (M) Fighter Jet
Manufactured by Dassault Rafale, it is a French twin-engine, canard delta wing, multirole fighter aircraft that can operate from either an aircraft carrier or a land base. The Rafale M features a greatly reinforced undercarriage to cope with the additional stresses of naval landings, an arrestor hook and a “jump strut” nosewheel, which only extends during short takeoffs, including catapult launches.
It also features a built-in ladder, carrier-based microwave landing system and the new fin-tip Telemir system for syncing the inertial navigation system to external equipment.
Although not a full-aspect stealth aircraft, the Rafale is designed for a reduced radar cross-section (RCS) and infrared signature.
For compatibility with armaments of varying types and origins, Rafale’s onboard store management system is compliant with MIL-STD-1760, an electrical interface between an aircraft and its carriage stores, thereby simplifying the incorporation of many of their existing weapons and equipment.
According to Dassault, Rafale’s onboard mission systems enable ground attack and air-to-air combat operations to be carried out within a single sortie, with many functions capable of simultaneous execution in conjunction with another, increasing survivability and versatility.
Furthermore, the Rafale M version features only 13 hardpoints when compared to the 14 on a typical Rafale, five of which are suitable for heavy armament or equipment.
Its combination of agility, deadly weapons and perfect systems make it one of the top contenders for the top spot.
The Boeing F/A-18 E/A Super Hornet
The Boeing F/A-18E and F/A-18F Super Hornet are twin-engine, carrier-capable, multirole fighter aircraft variants based on the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet.
Survivability is an important feature of the Super Hornet design. It does not rely on stealth, instead, its design incorporates a combination of signature reduction, advanced electronic-warfare capabilities, reduced ballistic vulnerability, use of standoff weapons, and innovative tactics that collectively enhance the safety of the fighter and crew affordably.
Although being a very reliable and inexpensive option, it’s inferior at high altitudes when compared to other competitors of its class.
While the F/A-18E/F is not a stealth fighter like the F-22, it features a frontal radar cross-section (RCS) an order of magnitude smaller than prior generation fighters.
Two Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet fighters are undergoing trials at the shore-based test facility at INS Hansa in Goa to showcase their compatibility and suitability to operate from Indian aircraft carriers
Alain Garcia, vice president of Boeing’s India Business Development, made a strong sales pitch for F/A-18 Super Hornet, saying the aircraft has been specifically designed for carrier operations. Garcia said that the fighter jet can operate from the Indian Navy warships and will meet or exceed the STOBAR (Short Take-off But Arrested Recovery) performance requirements of the Indian Navy.
Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet (SPECS)
- The Block III Super Hornet comes with advanced networking and open architecture design that allows it to work jointly with the Indian Navy’s P-8I and other US-origin assets, according to a Boeing executive
- According to Boeing, the two versions of the Super Hornet can conduct day/night strikes with precision-guided weapons, fighter escort, close air support, suppression of enemy air defences, maritime strike, reconnaissance, forward air control and tanker missions.
The first few photos of the fighters, undergoing testing since 23 May, have come up on Twitter:
The Super Hornet has become the most classic carrier-based aircraft of the modern times for the US Navy after having proved itself in both- fighter and attack roles.
The F-35B Fighter
The Lockheed Martin F-35B is the version of the F-35 Lightning II meant to perform on aircraft carriers. The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is an American family of single-seat, single-engine, all-weather stealth multirole combat aircraft that is intended to perform both air superiority and strike missions.
It is the second fifth-generation fighter to enter US service and the first operational supersonic STOVL stealth fighter.
Featuring advanced avionics and sensor fusion that enable a high level of situational awareness and long-range lethality, it has kinematics competitive with fourth-generation fighters such as the F-16 and F/A-18, although it still lacks the raw performance of the larger twin-engine F-22.
All variants have a top speed of Mach 1.6, attainable with a full internal payload.
Lockheed Martin is developing a weapon rack called Sidekick that would enable the internal outboard station to carry two AIM-120s, thus increasing the internal air-to-air payload to six missiles.
The F-35 is expected to be continually upgraded over its lifetime.
Other worthy mentions are the Chinese Shenyang J-15 and the Russian Mikoyan MiG-29K. While the former is yet to prove its mettle as a fighter, the latter would have surely ranked higher, if not for the issues faced by the Indian Navy.