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February 23, 2015

India now puts aircraft carrier plan on fast track


India is trying to fast-track finalization of its long-pending ambitious plan to launch indigenous construction of its largest-ever aircraft carrier. Though the propulsion system for the proposed 65,000-tonne warship is yet to be decided, the plan is veering towards nuclear power for greater operational endurance.

The ongoing "detailed" naval study for this indigenous aircraft carrier-II (IAC-II) project has gained urgency since the ageing 56-year-old INS Viraat -- quite toothless now with just 11 Sea Harrier jump-jets left to operate from its deck -- will be retired next year.

India has to plan ahead since it will take at least 10-12 years to construct IAC-II, which will be christened INS Vishal, if it wants to systematically build military capabilities to counter China's expanding long-range naval deployments in the Indian Ocean Region, say officials.

China, after inducting its first 65,000-tonne aircraft carrier Liaoning in September 2012, already has a second one under construction and two more are in the pipeline to further bolster its expanding maritime power. Aircraft carriers, with their accompanying warships and aircraft, after all, are the ultimate symbols of military power projection around the globe.

"INS Viraat will be decommissioned after the International Fleet Review in Vizag in February 2016. It will not be cost-effective to go in for another major refit of INS Viraat, which was inducted from the UK in May 1987," said an officer.

This will leave the Navy with just one aircraft carrier, the 44,400-tonne INS Vikramaditya, the refurbished Admiral Gorshkov inducted from Russia at a cost of $2.33 billion in November 2013. The 40,000-tonne IAC-I or INS Vikrant being built at Cochin Shipyard will be ready for induction only by 2018-2019 after a long delay.

The construction of INS Vishal will also not be an easy task. It will take a few more months to "finalize the exact tonnage and the type of propulsion, aircraft and other parameters" for IAC-II. "The government will then have to take the final call," said another officer.



But the carrier will definitely have CATOBAR (catapult assisted take-off but arrested recovery) configuration for launching fighters as well as heavier aircraft from its deck. Towards this end, India has already asked the US to share technology for EMALS (electromagnetic aircraft launch systems), developed by General Atomics, under the bilateral Defence Trade and Technology Initiative, as reported by TOI earlier.

INS Viraat, INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant all have angled ski-jumps for fighters to take off under their own power in STOBAR (short take-off but arrested recovery) operations. "This limits the carrier operations to only fighters like MiG-29Ks. With CATOBAR, IAC-II will also be able handle more as well as heavier aircraft for surveillance, early-warning, electronic warfare and other operations," he said.

The importance of carrier battle-groups can be gauged from the fact that one such task-force can "control" around 200,000 square nautical miles of ocean area, and is capable of moving over 600 nautical miles a day. "The self-contained CBGs are the most versatile platforms of military power available," he said.
 -  timesofindia

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