The RAC MiG-29K and Hindustan Aeronautics LCA Navy fighters have conducted the first flights to and from India’s new aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant.

The 6 February work saw both jets land and take off from the carrier, according to India’s Ministry of Defence.

The jets were flown by Indian navy test pilots.

“The successful landing and take-off of the indigenous LCA Navy on India’s first Indigenous Aircraft Carrier is a momentous step forward towards the realisation of our collective vision of AatmaNirbhar Bharat,” says Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral R Hari Kumar.

“The maiden landing of the MiG-29K also heralds the integration of the fighter aircraft with INS Vikrant. Congratulations to all those who made it happen.”

AatmaNirbhar Bharat is a government initiative to make India self-reliant and globally competitive in key technological fields.

Vikrant has been in trials since its commissioning in September 2022.

While the MiG-29K is in service with the Indian navy aboard its other carrier, INS Vikramaditya, the two LCA Navy Mk1 prototypes perform the role of technology demonstrators, undertaking carrier suitability trials and demonstrations. This will help with developmental flight testing, validation of important concepts, and facilitate pilot training for carrier operations with indigenously developed aircraft.

Long delays with the LCA Navy programme saw the navy instead decide to proceed with an all-new twin-engined carrier-based fighter, as against the earlier proposed LCA Navy MkII.

New Delhi also has a requirement for 57 carrier-capable fighters. The contenders for this are the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Dassault Rafale M.

In 2022, both fighter types conducted tests in India related to the campaign, including launches from a land-based ski-jump ramp in Goa, as well as arrested landings.

Indian requirements call for the acquisition of single and two-seat fighters. While the Super Hornet has single and two-seat versions, the Rafale M only comes with a single seat.

Another challenge for the Indian carrier requirement is the small size of the elevators to the ship’s hangars. While the Super Hornet’s wing’s can fold, the Rafale M’s cannot.