By August-end, the Indian Navy will get another aircraft carrier in its fleet. Late last month the indigenous aircraft carrier-1 (IAC) `Vikrant’ was handed over to the Indian Navy by Cochin Shipyard. No dates have officially been announced, however, according to sources, the carrier will be commissioned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi later this month at a ceremony.
About IAc-1 Vikrant
IAC -1 `Vikrant’ has been designed in India and its construction, which began in 2009, was not without risk. Originally scheduled for the end of the decade, this date had to be pushed back owing to delays in the supply of specialised equipment bought from Russia and health precautions associated with the Covid-19 outbreak. Finally, this ship could not set sail until August 2021.
Also Read: Indian Navy: Looking beyond the Vikrant
The carrier’s delivery is ahead of its new schedule and does not have a dedicated air wing. So it has to share the MiG-29k fighter aircraft being flown from INS Vikramaditya. Till the air wing is firmed up, the carrier will be put through familiarisation and improvements.
The choice lies between the French Rafale M from Dassault Aviation and F/A-18E Super Hornet. Financial Express Online has reported earlier that Rafale-M can be immediately delivered, up to four numbers, for training purposes till the production aircraft arrives. F/A-18E Super Hornet is the most successful carrier aircraft of the day. The Russian MiG-29k appears to have technical issues, which is why the carrier wing has been delayed.
IAC-1 with a displacement of roughly 40,000 tonnes, a length of 262 metres and a width of 60 metres is in STOBAR configuration. This means it is equipped with a springboard to allow its carrier planes to take off. It can handle roughly thirty aircraft, including 26 MiG-29K fighters, this is due to four General Electric (GE) LM2500 + gas turbines that allow it to attain a maximum speed of 28 knots (18 knots at cruising speed). The Indian Navy has the option of equipping it with Russian Kamov Ka-31 Helicopters, indigenous ALH `Dhruv’ and Sikorsky MH- 60 Romeo Seahawk anti-submarine helicopters from the US.
Almost 75 percent of its components on IAC-1`Vikrant’ are of Indian origin. There are GE LM2500 gas turbines from the US, some aviation-related equipment from Russia and some electronics from Israel.
Financial Express Online has reported earlier that in future, the Indian Navy hopes to be able to have, in the future, a 65000-ton third aircraft carrier in CATOBAR configuration (with catapults and stoppers). Catapults, which can be steam-powered or electromagnetic, are that of French and American aircraft carriers, and China has also allegedly launched one such carrier.
After the withdrawal of INS Viraat in 2017, the naval air capabilities of the Indian Navy relied only on the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, inducted to service in 2013 after being acquired from Russia (under the name “Admiral Gorshkov”) and refitted, not without difficulty.
Sharing his views with Financial Express Online, Girish Linganna, Aerospace & Defence Analyst says, “There are reports regarding a third aircraft carrier. This three-carrier format, which would allow India to have two ready-to-use carrier battle groups, was decided upon as it appeared that maritime issues were constantly gaining in importance under the effect of the globalisation of trade and the rise of Chinese power. Until then, New Delhi’s priority was the challenges posed at its borders by Pakistan and China. Hence it’s the so-called “double front” strategy. Therefore, the decision to strengthen its naval capabilities marked a turning point.”
“The concern for the Indian Navy is that certain technologies necessary for a new generation aircraft carrier are currently lacking. Clearly, it will need external support, while the watchword in India is “Make in India”.
“A CATOBAR configuration also means that although India can build the hull, it will depend on the Americans or the French for the catapult system. It requires a huge amount of power which can be fulfilled by only nuclear propulsion. India already has naval nuclear propulsion for INS Arihant class nuclear submarines, and it could be modified for the aircraft carrier. China is building a conventionally powered CATOBAR carrier, and we will see how it goes, ”Girish Linganna explains.
According to him, “If built, it is expected only by 2040. In the meantime, Rafale-M and F/A-18E Super Hornet would have reached the end of life, and India may start fielding its aircraft carrier-specific fighter, the HAL Twin Engine Deck Based Fighter (TBDEF). We might also see India designing a 5th gen deck based fighter based on the TBDEF and Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) being designed for the Indian Air Force.”
Adding, “A full-fledged CATOBAR carrier with aircraft can cost around USD20 billion and take a decade to construct. This makes New Delhi question whether it is worthwhile or spend the money on other important military purchase needs.”
In his opinion, “Given the current tensions with China, the third aircraft carrier is considered a vital necessity for the Indian Navy. But with the Indian government delaying its decision, the chances of a favourable decision for the Navy may diminish.”