Russia has commenced sea trials involving the Indian navy's refurbished aircraft carrier the INS Vikramaditya, as sources suggest the service could consider a future acquisition of the Dassault Rafale.
Originally built for Russia as the Admiral Gorshkov, with a maximum displacement of 43,500t, the refitted and modernised vessel left Severodvinsk in the north of the country on 8 June for open-sea trials, preceeding its delivery to India in December. Once operational, the Vikramaditya will be capable of carrying 30 to 34 aircraft, including RSK MiG-29K deck-based fighters.
Sources say the Indian navy is considering the carrier-capable Rafale M as a possible acquisition, with a potential cost benefit to come from the air force's pending deal for 126 of the type to meet its medium multi-role combat aircraft requirement.
Already operational with the French navy and similar in size to the MiG-29K, the Rafale M could potentially be operated from India's future ski-jump-equipped domestic aircraft carriers and offer a greater operational capability than current Russian aircraft and India's Aeronautical Development Agency Tejas naval fighter.
India's interest in new naval fighters stems partly from China's ongoing test work with the aircraft carrier Shi Lang, which will be capable of deploying locally-built versions of the Sukhoi Su-30.