Chetak, if you are referring to the Sea King spares fiasco - due to sanctions from Pokharan ‘98 - the Indian Navy got over that when the Malabar Exercises really got underway in the late 2000s along with America’s Look East policy to keep China in check. Presently, the trajectories of both are only going up. America wants to create a choke hold around China in the South China Sea and the Philippine Sea and need countries in the region to hop on board the American bandwagon.
When the Malabar Exercises shifted from VBBS drills, fuel transfers from replenishment ships to combat vessels and personnel transfers - during the exercise - between the IN and US navies to more of a carrier battle group focus, is when the IN got seriously interested in the American CVBG concept and the tremendous advantages and leverage that such a force structure can influence a conflict. I am sure you remember Rear Admiral Surendra Ahuja - now retired - who was among the lead proponents of a nuclear powered, EMALS equipped, F-18 Super Hornet embarking aircraft carrier. That proposal - at least the nuclear powered aspect - got soundly shot down in the MoD last year due to the high cost involved and with neither the BARC or the IN wanting to invest money - from their own budgets - in developing the reactor.
Even if you remove INS Vishaal (and all the expensive toys that come with it), the IN has favoured Sikorsky’s MH-60R naval helicopter as the Sea King Mk42 replacement. From a platform perspective, the MH-60R is a valuable and proven workhorse. One cannot have an effective CVBG without a robust ASW component, of which a reliable naval helicopter is a definite must. It is the unreliability of the American political climate that is the worry.
Alignment with America - from the US point of view - is viewed as a Lord & Serf
type relationship. You have been given the esteemed honour of operationing American platforms, so now you obligated (and required) to follow the American geopolitical view of the world. That is big turn off (and relationship killer) to Indian policy makers. I believe it was Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj - in reference to CAATSA - that said that India only recognizes UN laws and not laws imposed upon India by another foreign nation.
Alignment with America - from the Indian point of view - still follows very much the non-aligned thesis. While we appreciate the closer relationship between our two nations and while we agree that China is a real threat, our relationship and our geopolitical view of the world cannot and must not be dictated by a foreign power, including you. That was conveyed in very clear terms by Defence Minster Sitharaman to the Americans when the S-400 purchase was close to signing.
If the IN wants EMALS and wants to emulate the American model of carrier operations, the F-18 is key. Even if no EMALS come, the only other country that operates a catapult type aircraft carrier is France and guess where that catapult system is from? From the Americans onlee! Rafale Ms operating from the French carrier Charles De Gaulle, use an American catapult system for recovery.
Point of this long rant of mine, is the IN - willing or grudgingly - will have to adopt the F-18, if it is invested in the idea of USN style carrier ops. It is the only bird - as per Boeing - that can operate off the Vikramaditya and the new Vikrant (both ski jump carriers) with a decent payload. I am not very confident in Dassault’s suggestion of the Rafale Ms having detachable wings (to fit on the lifts). That will not work or at least I cannot see how effective that will be for intensive carrier operations.
Apart from that issue - and it is a deal breaker - the Rafale M can definitely hold her own against the F-18 Super Hornet, at least for what the IN intends to do with their next carrier borne fighter. The other viable option is to lay the keel for a stretched Vikrant (with wider lifts) to accommodate the Rafale M. And yes, she will be a ski jump, at least till we figure out our own catapult system like the Chinese have. And have the Vikrant and Vikramaditya operate the MiG-29K and if I may be so bold to say, the naval Tejas Mk2
And thus the F-16 offer is puzzling to me. If anything, the F-18 would have made more sense from a commanality stand point for the IAF and the IN. Or perhaps the F-16 for the IAF is part one of the CASTSA waiver and the second part is the F-18 for the IN. In this way, both Boeing and Lockheed Martin hit a home run.
The initial cost for the 110 fighters for the IAF will be anywhere between $15 - $20 billion (after you factor in the factory, tooling, jigs, weapons and the bare bones aircraft itself). The decades of maintenance after will be even more billions. The naval fighter contest has an initial estimated cost of $15 billion, with maintenance expected to be also in the billions over her length of service.