Few days back “Naval News” website published an article written by HI Sutton, a well-known foreign military media person, stating that the Chinese Navy is rapidly expanding its aircraft carrier fleet. There are currently two ships in service, and at least one is under construction. Although China is still a newbie in the use of aircraft carriers, their experience in the use of aircraft carriers has been growing. As a competitor in the Asia-Pacific region, the Indian Navy has a long history of owning aircraft carriers, and it also has rich experience in its use. Today, India expects the first domestically-produced aircraft carrier “INS Vikrant” to maintain sufficient competitiveness.
The article stated that the Indian Navy’s first domestically-produced aircraft carrier “Vikrant” is expected to begin sea trials soon. It will be India’s second aircraft carrier, and the other is the Russian-built “INS Vikramaditya” aircraft carrier. When it joins the fleet, it will become a key component of India’s ability to respond to China’s growing navy.
US media believe that the Indian Navy has a long history of aircraft carrier aviation tradition. Since 1957, India has been able to use aircraft carriers capable of carrying fixed-wing aircraft, second only to France and the United States. Moreover, for the Indian Navy and its indigenous industries, this new aircraft carrier represents a step forward for India.
On the other hand, the article pointed out that the Chinese Navy began to use aircraft carriers nearly 10 years ago, and the importance of this period to the development of the Chinese Navy’s aircraft carriers should not be underestimated, but it will take several years for China to fully realize the potential of its aircraft carriers.
The displacement of the “Vikrant” aircraft carrier is 45,000 tons, which is equivalent to about 67% of China’s existing aircraft carrier tonnage. Although the tonnage of the “Vikrant” is not large enough, its combat capability is still very strong, and on the whole, it is equivalent to the combat capability of China’s first two aircraft carriers, the Liaoning and Shandong. The deck area of the “Vikrant” aircraft carrier is about 85% of the deck area of China’s active aircraft carrier.
Although the Indian aircraft carrier and the Chinese aircraft carrier overlap in construction time, the Indian aircraft carrier is a new-generation design in many aspects. The design of the “Vikrant” began in 1999, and China’s aircraft carrier technology is rooted in Soviet aircraft carrier technology in the 1970s. The “Vikrant” aircraft carrier was launched in August 2013 and has since been outfitted at the Cochin Shipyard.
According to the article, China’s active aircraft carriers basically belong to the Admiral Kuznetsov-class aircraft carriers designed during the Soviet era. The Liaoning ship was actually built in 1985 and was not sold to China in the name of scrap until 1998. The Liaoning ship entered service in 2012. The Shandong ship was built according to the same overall design (with some modifications) and entered service in 2019.
However, these differences are most illustrative of the problem under deck. China’s active aircraft carriers use traditional steam turbines, while the Vikrant uses more modern gas turbines. However, both the Liaoning and Shandong ships have been put into service. Although China has less experience in aircraft carrier operations than India, the Liaoning ship has been in service for more than 8 years.
According to the article, the main combat aircraft carried by the Chinese aircraft carrier is the J-15 carrier-based aircraft developed by Shenyang. Similar to other derivatives of the “Flanker” series fighters in service in China, the J-15 carrier-based aircraft is equipped with a series of Chinese air-to-air missiles. , Including the PL-12 air-to-air missiles, they can also carry anti-ship missiles and ground attack missiles.
The J-15 carrier-based aircraft is a heavy weight aircraft, and India chose the MiG-29K “fulcrum” medium-sized carrier-based fighter. Despite the difference in size, the number of bullet points under the wings of the two carrier-based aircraft are similar.
But Indian Navy is studying a more modern fighter to replace the MiG-29K “fulcrum” carrier-based aircraft. The main competitor is the TEDBF (Twin Engine Carrier Fighter) developed by HAL, which uses a compact canard design. India claims that it is expected to fly in five years. At the same time, the Indian Navy may order a smaller number of temporary carrier-based aircraft, among which Boeing’s “Super Hornet” fighter jets and Dassault’s “Rafale” fighter jets will be the main competitors.
According to the article, it is expected that the aircraft carriers of both China and India will have airborne early warning (AEW) capabilities. The Indian Navy uses Ka-31 carrier-based early warning helicopters, and China uses Zhi-18J early warning helicopters. Helicopter-based early warning capabilities may greatly improve the air defense and situational awareness capabilities of aircraft carrier battle groups, but compared with fixed-wing early warning aircraft, its inherent limitations are greater.
Recently China has developed a fixed-wing early warning aircraft, which is very similar to the E-2D “Eagle Eye” carrier-based early warning aircraft in service with the US and French navies. However, due to the lack of ejection systems on the Liaoning and Shandong ships, the fixed-wing early warning aircraft is not expected to serve on these two aircraft carriers. However, China’s third aircraft carrier is expected to equip this aircraft with a catapult.
It is reported that the third aircraft carrier China is building is larger than the Liaoning and Shandong ships, and it may also introduce new carrier-based fighters. China has the ability to develop fifth-generation aircraft, so it may only be a matter of time to replace the J-15D carrier-based aircraft. It is very likely that the first two aircraft carriers will also be equipped with new carrier-based aircraft.
At the end of the article, it is pointed out that more and more countries are using large aircraft carriers, and Asia has the largest growth. Similar to India’s previous aircraft carriers, more and more capable smaller aircraft carriers are emerging. The new user countries will include Japan and South Korea, and the combat capability of the new aircraft carrier equipped with F-35 fighters is very powerful. France and the United Kingdom have also deployed their aircraft carriers to Asia.
However, India will mainly focus on China’s growing naval power. It is unlikely that India will use more aircraft carriers than China in the future. But if there are two aircraft carriers, the gap will be manageable. By developing new carrier-based aircraft, India can maintain a strong position in the development of aircraft carriers.