September 16, 2015

India, US discuss plans to develop next-gen aircraft carrier

India and the US have started discussions to jointly develop a next-generation aircraft carrier to bolster the Indian Navy's blue-water capabilities, a top Pentagon official has said.

During US President Barack Obama's visit to India in January, the two countries had announced the establishment of a working group for the proposed aircraft carrier, which held its first ever meeting here last month.

The Indian delegation led by Vice Admiral SPS Cheema, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief (FOC-in-C), Western Naval Command, also visited the US Navy's state-of-the-art aircraft carrier - PCU Gerald Ford - currently under construction at Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia, and received briefs on US Navy management of aircraft carrier programmes.

"The impression that I was left with in my discussion with Vice Admiral Cheema is that it exceeded our expectations," Keith Webster, director and International Cooperation Office of the Under Secretary of Defence for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, said.

"There was an incredible amount of time spent on answering questions from the Indian delegation specific to how do we manage acquisition of an aircraft carrier, which is a hugely complex journey," he said.

The delegation met with senior Pentagon officials, and toured the US Navy's research and development facilities for aircraft carrier launch and recovery systems as a first step to exploring opportunities for cooperation.

"We answered every question that they had. And I think the realisation for Indian colleagues was that aircraft carrier technology and construction is very unique and that a large part of which is controlled by the US Navy and the US government," Webster said.

Noting that the US Navy has its own in-house design team supported by industry and owns majority of the technology, Webster said the good news is because the US government has such control over aircraft carrier development, design and technology; tactics and techniques, it has greater latitude than other technologies like jet engines where it can control the decisions in a way that it cannot in some other industry.

The next step would be the Indian Navy hosting the US Navy within the next six months or so to continue to focus on the way ahead, he said.

"We believe there are opportunities to provide technical advice to the Indian Navy given our long history of aircraft carrier design and evolution," said the senior Department of Defence official. 

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