With the recent visit of US President Barack Obama, India got great deals in its bag. One of them is the sophisticated and critical technology needed for our aircraft carriers. The new-generation catapult, Electro-Magnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) is featuring with our domestically built second aircraft carrier INS VISHAL or IAC II. We have got exactly what we needed, plus India may also buy V-22 Osprey aircrafts which are capable of Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) and Short Take Off and Landing (STOL).
CATOBAR vs STOBAR :
In 1989 India announced a plan to replace its ageing British-built aircraft carriers, Vikrant and Viraat, with two new Aircraft Carriers. The first ship of the class, INS Vikrant also called as IAC I features a STOBAR (Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery) configuration with a ski-jump. The "ski-jump" ramp in the carrier is to assist in the take off of conventional fixed-wing aircraft, and use "trap wires" to help an aircraft land. It is designed mainly for lighter aircrafts like Mikoyan Mig-29k and HAL Tejas Mark II. Generally, STOBAR carriers are easy to operate and easy to maintain, and have low operating cost.
As the ship is based on STOBAR, it has its own drawbacks. STOBAR aircraft carriers have to maintain speeds of 20-30 knots to generate wind over deck to support the mission. In other words, it can not support launch missions in still conditions. It is also difficult to operate bulky airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft using this system which can make the carrier very vulnerable during wartime. So the need is to find solutions for all these problems, and the answer is Catapult Assisted Take-Off, Barrier Assisted Recovery (CATOBAR).
CATOBAR uses "trap lines" to stop an aircraft while landing, and a catapult to help it launch. Initially there were reports that the Indian Navy is going with steam catapult for INS Vishal. A steam catapult uses more than 600 kg of steam to launch an aircraft. Plus there is a requirement of hydraulics and oils, water to break the catapult, and associated pumps, motors and control systems.
The result is a large, heavy, maintenance intensive system which requires more manpower. On the other hand, EMALS uses an approach analogous to an electromagnetic railgun results to accelerate the shuttle that holds the aircraft.
The United Stated navy is the most experienced player in CATOBAR carriers, but all their carriers feature steam catapult system. EMALS is featuring in their new Ford class carrier, Gerald R. Ford which costs around whooping $13 billion.
CATOBAR offers more options such as supporting operations of heavier fighters, AEW aircraft and, crucially, unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs), when compared with STOBAR systems. This will give Indian Navy an upper hand in the region by expanding their mission envelope with UCAVs, using the pilotless aircraft for high-risk reconnaissance and suppression of enemy air defences.
THE INS VISHAL :
INS Vishal is going to be expensive as compared to the other aircraft carriers we have. It is very hard to believe from the recent reports that it will be a conventional – powered aircraft carrier. INS Vishal is still 10 to 12 years away from reality, so India has enough time to go for a nuclear powered aircraft carrier. All US Navy's CATOBAR based Nimitz class aircraft carriers are nuclear powered. EMALS systems may need 60 MW of electricity at its peak and the 3 seconds in which one aircraft will be launched, that amount of energy could power 12000 homes.
A nuclear powered aircraft carrier is the most suitable option for the Indian navy, which will also give us outstanding power projection over a conventional aircraft carrier. We have gained some experience from INS Arihant in this field, though a submarine and an aircraft carrier are totally two different structures.
The designing of INS Vishal is also going to be a tough job for 'Directorate of Naval Design' (DND) of the Indian Navy.
Though DND has successfully designed INS Vikrant, but this is totally a new breed which needs sleek, precise and sophisticated design for faultless construction. It would be a boon for the DND if the United States could also assist India in designing of the aircraft carrier, INS Vishal. However there is nothing clear about the fighter aircraft, which will be deployed on INS Vishal.
INS Vishal will be the future of a new brand of aircraft carriers. It will dominate the Indian ocean and give India a giant leap over the Chinese. From here you can see the Indian Navy become a formidable true blue water navy capable of projecting deadly force across the Indian ocean and beyond.