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After INS Vikramaditya & Vikrant, Is Indian Navy Going For Third Aircraft Carrier To Match Chinese PLAN?

As the Indian Navy’s first domestically-built aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, gears up for sea trials in early 2021, a fresh debate arises whether the country needs a third carrier, especially in view of China’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean.

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One of India’s top defense experts, Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha (retd), believes a third carrier could help serve the Indian Navy’s requirement of “full surveillance of the Indian Ocean region” and to provide help to “like-minded countries”.

Speaking to The EurAsian Times, Vice Admiral Sinha (retd), said – “India’s naval plans have always revolved around two carrier battle groups: Eastern Seaboard and Western seaboard. The third carrier would be necessary to be deployed when any one of the two carriers is under repair and maintenance.”

He explained that a normal refill cycle for a ship is nine months, so when one is under refill, the other two could be deployed.

When asked about a comparison between the Indian carrier’s strengths with the Chinese,  Vice Admiral Sinha said that India’s aim is not to compete with China but to have a carrier that could help serve the Navy’s requirement of “full surveillance of the Indian Ocean region” and to provide help to “like-minded countries” who operate their littorals in the Indian Ocean region.

China is operating two aircraft carriers and is reportedly building two more. Earlier, there were reports that China is aggressively working on its third and fourth aircraft carriers at the Jiangnan shipyard in Shanghai, which many media outlets in China including state-run Global Times predicted, could be launched by 2025. Last year, the Indian Navy chief said that China is projected to operate 10 warships by 2049.

“We should only build what we need and require.” 

However, Vice Admiral Sinha said that China is a much richer country with an economy that is five times bigger than that of India, adding that it is difficult to compare “because (if) China is building then we should also build isn’t a right approach”.

Third Carrier On The Cards

Meanwhile, the Indian Navy has already declared its intention to procure a third carrier. On the occasion of Navy Day on December 4, Admiral Karambir Singh said that the Navy will make a formal request to the government for the acquisition of a third carrier.

“We have sent out certain RFIs (Request for Information) to gather information. Once we have collated them we will go in for the AON (Acceptance of Necessity). We all know that air operations are integral to naval operations and air power at sea is required here and now,” Admiral Singh said.

“We are very clear that airpower at sea is required. If you are a nation that has aspirations and wants to be a $5 trillion economy and do not want to be tethered to the shores…aircraft carriers are absolutely essential,” he added.

Vikrant Ready For Sea Trials

INS Vikrant has recently completed basin trials and is expected to undergo sea trials in early 2021. The basin trials were held at Cochin Shipyard Limited (CSL) in Kochi where the carrier is built.

The basin trials include the testing of the propulsion system and covers all four LM2500 gas turbines, main gearboxes, shafting, and controllable pitch propellers, along with their integrated control systems, reported Naval Today.

In addition, auxiliary equipment and systems such as steering gear, air conditioning plants, compressors, centrifuges, all 60 critical pumps, power generation and distribution system, major machinery fire-fighting and de-flooding systems, deck machinery, as well as entire internal communication equipment were tested during the trials.

In the next phase, the aircraft carrier will begin sea trials, during which it would be rigorously tested for its capabilities and equipment for one year to operationalize the ‘big beast’ and train its crew. Additional tests would be done to operationalize the aircraft deployed and the battle group.

Navy’s ‘Make in India’ Milestone

Under PM Narendra Modi’s flagship ‘Make In India’ or ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ initiative, INS Vikrant will be India’s largest indigenously-built naval ship. Indian Navy’s current flagship aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya, was a modified version of Kiev-class that was decommissioned by Russia in 1996.

“Today, the IAC (Indian Aircraft Carrier) is being built in India, which will be followed by Shivalik-class multi-role frigates and Kamorta-class anti-submarine warfare corvettes. Five to 10 years down the line, we visualize a dominant naval force with indigenous capabilities.

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And for that to happen we need all including PSUs, Navy, MSME and startups to work together as a team,” said Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command, Atul Kumar Jain, addressing a press conference.

The 260 meters long INS Vikrant would have two take-off runways and a landing strip with three arrester wires, capable of operating a STOBAR (short take-off but arrested delivery) system.

INS Vikrant will be able to host a variety of aircraft, including the Russian MiG-29K and the indigenous LCA (Navy) fighters along with Kamov Ka-31, Sea King, and the Naval variant of Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) Dhruv.

Hi-Tech Equipment

According to the Indian Navy, the ship’s ability to sense and control a large air space around it will be enabled by modern C/D band early air warning radar, V/UHF tactical air navigational and direction finding systems, electromagnetic jamming system,  and carrier control approach radars. Long-range surface-to-air missile (LR SAM) systems with multi-function radar (MFR) and close-in weapon system (CIWS) will form the protective suite of the ship.

With this, India will join the elite group of nations that have indigenously built aircraft carriers. At present, only the US, Russia, the UK, France, and China have the capacity to design and build aircraft carriers of 40,000 tonnes and heavier.

INS Vikrant is expected to be commissioned in service by the end of 2021 or early 2022.

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