The Indian Navy is discussing the feasibility of going for a repeat order of India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier or IAC 1 — INS Vikrant — to meet immediate operational requirements instead of a planned second indigenous aircraft carrier with a much higher tonnage and capability.
Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral R Hari Kumar on Saturday said as of now plans for the second indigenous aircraft carrier, or IAC 2, had been put on hold as the navy was satisfied with the trial performance of the INS Vikrant, which was commissioned into the navy on September 2.
India has two aircraft carriers – Russian-made INS Vikramaditya and IAC 1, or INS Vikrant. IAC 2, when made and commissioned, will be the third aircraft carrier.
Addressing the media ahead of Navy Day on December 4, Admiral Kumar said internal discussions were on at this stage and there was no firm plan as the proposal was yet to be placed for government examination. “We are examining whether we should look at a repeat order of IAC 1 instead of IAC 2 to capitalise on the expertise available,” he said, elaborating on the quantum of expertise gained in building the IAC 1 by Cochin Shipyard Ltd and ancillary industries that had come up in the process.
IAC 2: Originally envisaged to carry 50 aircraft
Despite opposition from the department of military affairs (DMA) over the acquisition of a third aircraft carrier due to a financial crunch, the navy has been firm on its need. India is among a handful of countries to have developed the niche capability of manufacturing an aircraft carrier indigenously.
With a displacement of 65,000 tonnes, the IAC 2 was planned to be larger than the first. According to the original plans, IAC 2 could carry around 50 aircraft, have the latest CATOBAR (catapult assisted take-off but arrested recovery) mechanism and nuclear or electric propulsion.
If the navy, however, decides to go ahead with a repeat order of the INS Vikrant, then the second aircraft carrier will have the same or similar specifications, including gas turbine propulsion and a carriage capacity of around 30 aircraft.
According to officials, the difference in cost between the two aircraft carriers could be an estimated Rs 10,000 crore to Rs 15,000 crore. A senior naval officer said India needed three aircraft carriers at a given time, so that even if one warship was undergoing a refit, the two other carriers could be operationally active – one on the eastern seaboard with increasing focus on China and the other on the western seaboard.
“At this point, we cannot wait. It is, thus, being discussed if the defence ecosystem, which has been created in the building of IAC 1 by CSL in the last 10 years, can be utilised to build a similar aircraft carrier for requirements over the next few years,” the officer said.
Among other important developments, Admiral Kumar said at present there was a gap in terms of the number of aircraft available for the carriers. He said with the limited numbers of MiG-29Ks in the navy and the indigenous Twin Engine Deck Based Fighter set to be inducted only after 2032, the force was looking at acquiring a limited number of deck-based fighters through an intergovernmental agreement, which could be among the French Rafale-M or the American F/A-18 Super Hornets.
“The trial reports are under evaluation and we will take a call on what is in our best interest,” the senior officer added.
The navy chief said other important acquisitions on the table included going in for minesweeping vessels combining a mother ship and other latest unmanned technologies, as well as the Rs 43,000-crore P-75I under which six conventional submarines will be built with a foreign partner under the strategic partnership model.
The project, Admiral Kumar said, was facing some challenges but the nuances were being worked out and, thus, should move forward in a few months. Additionally, the case for procuring 30 high-altitude long-endurance UAVs was also ongoing. He said the project had reached a stage where it was being discussed if the numbers should be rationalised or the defence services should stick to procuring 30.
“The navy had the experience of leasing two of these UAVs in the last year and a half and has found it to be of great value. It provides much reach and good surveillance in the IOR (Indian Ocean Region). We are confident when we induct these, they will provide a great value addition to the three services,” he added.
‘Keeping track of Chinese ships in IOR’
Admiral Kumar said there were several Chinese ships operating in the Indian Ocean Region, including four to six PLA (navy) ships, Chinese research vessels, and a large number of Chinese fishing vessels.
“We, as a resident maritime power, keep a watch on developments. A large number of extra regional forces are also present in the IOR. It is a vital region and a large amount of trade transits and energy flows through this important region,” he said.
He added: “Our job as the navy is to see that India’s interests in the maritime domain are protected. Towards this, we keep a close watch on them and track them and we see that they do not undertake any activity inimical to us.”
Talking about the Quad, Admiral Kumar said it was the coming together of like-minded nations with similar values. He said it was not a military alliance, and member countries benefited from each other through close cooperation in exchanging ideas and capabilities.
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