The Indian Navy currently operating one aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, while the second INS Vikrant will be commissioned by mid-2022.
As China now is building third aircraft carriers, there are warnings that this could upset a delicate balance—and those warning signals aren’t coming from Washington now but rather New Delhi, as the Indian Navy has just one carrier in service which currently is under maintenance. It is 40 years old with another will join next year. As tensions with China have increased there are now increased calls for a third Indian Navy aircraft carrier.
China could launch a far larger, and much more high-tech third carrier by the end of this year, and it is part of the overall modernization efforts underway with the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).
Amid China tension, the Indian Navy has been pitching for a third aircraft carrier (IAC-2) so that it has at least one each for the eastern and western seaboard even if one is off duty for repairs. The Indian Navy is confident of a positive response from the government on its demand for a third aircraft carrier and the warship will be designed to accommodate both fighter jets and unmanned aerial vehicles, people familiar with the development said on Tuesday.
When it comes to the estimated cost INS Vikrant(IAC-1), costs around Rs 23,000 crore, will be commissioned in August-2022. while IAC-2, affectionately called Vishal (HUGE in English), lives up to its name, with a price tag of about Rs 80,000-90,000 crore.
The people cited above said discussions on various aspects of the third aircraft carrier were on and that its overall displacement may be brought down from the proposed 65,000 tonnes to bring down cost and time for its construction.
“We are looking at various aspects of the project. It will be designed to accommodate both fighter jets and unmanned aerial vehicles,” said a source.
At a press conference, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Karambir Singh last year said that a third aircraft carrier for India is “absolutely necessary” to further expand its maritime prowess.
The people cited above said the third aircraft carrier project is set to be included in the modified 15-year Maritime Capability Perspective Plan (MCPP) of the Indian Navy.
The Navy is modifying the MCPP in view of time overrun in certain projects as well as to align it with the 10-year Integrated Capability Development Plan (ICDP) being worked out by the Department of Military Affairs to ensure a tri-services approach in meeting future security challenges.
Asked about the third aircraft carrier, Vice Admiral Satish Namdeo Ghormade, the Vice Chief of Naval Staff, said the requirement of the third aircraft carrier will be factored in when the plan is made.
“All these, the aircraft carrier (third), the submarines and maritime patrol aircraft, will have a definite role. To make a balanced force, all these are required for the capability of the country,” he told reporters at an event.
However, in February last year Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat, the man who holds the purse strings for defence acquisition, has taken the wind out of the sails on the Navy’s plans for a third aircraft carrier. Throwing a budget boulder, he has argued that “unsinkable assets” like the Andaman & Nicobar islands should be developed instead to strengthen India’s maritime capabilities.
The Navy Chief begs to differ.
“Airpower is extremely crucial at sea. You need airpower here and now. We cannot have a Navy tethered to the shore waiting for some shore-based aircraft to support us. Aircraft carriers are crucial to the maritime concept of operations,” Admiral Karambir Singh said.
To elaborate on what the Navy Chief is saying, given the vastness of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), even if one were to activate a group of fighters from Port Blair as soon as a threat is detected, it would take at least 90 minutes to get to the ‘spot’. And a lot can happen over 90 minutes. An aircraft carrier provides speed and flexibility, argues the Navy.
A total of 41 aircraft carriers are operated by 13 navies across the world. The United States has 11. China currently has 2 but its expansion plan is ambitious. It is aiming for 4 by 2028 and 10 by 2050, adding more airpower to what is already the largest navy in the world.
About 85 per cent of China’s energy requirement flows through the IOR. The Chinese have been regularly deploying 3-4 warships and submarines in the region in the garb of anti-piracy missions to protect their trade. Maritime security experts say it is only a matter of time before the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) replaces this ‘task force’ with a carrier battle group in the IOR.