Raising an alarm over the ongoing expansion of the Chinese Navy that will rapidly add warships to its fleet in the next decade, navy chief Admiral Karambir Singh said India requires at least three aircraft carriers to meet operational needs in the region.
Strongly advocating the addition of another aircraft carrier to the Indian fleet—the only operating carrier currently is the INS Vikramaditya while an indigenous carrier is under construction at Kochi—the officer said China is projected to operate up to 10 of the warships by 2049.
The navy chief’s comments come as a formal proposal to start work on the third aircraft carrier planned to be the largest ever warship to be made in India—have not found favour with the defence ministry that has reservations on the funds required for the project.
“Our overall strategy is centred around the operation of Carrier Task Groups supported by multi-dimensional, state-of-the-art surface and air platforms… an aircraft carrier is central to INs operating philosophy… accordingly, we are pursuing induction of the third carrier to ensure we have the requisite force levels to meet all operational imperatives,” the navy chief has said in his first detailed comments on the stalled project.
The Indian Navy is homing in on electric propulsion for a planned future aircraft carrier, with a hybrid system likely to be considered for development, most likely in partnership with a US-based partner. As per preliminary design plans, the ship would displace 65,000 tons and would be of the CATOBAR (catapult assisted take off but arrested recovery) type.
The defence ministry has been going slow on what some consider a prohibitively expensive naval programme, with officials suggesting optimal utilisation of resources for other critical purchases, like submarines and advanced frigates. By conservative estimates, the cost of construction of the carrier itself, without the aircraft, would exceed Rs 70,000 crore.
The navy, however, is certain that the way of the future is to operate aircraft carrier battle groups that can project power. The logic is that a third carrier is needed to ensure that at least two are at sea at any given point. The INS Vikramaditya is based at Karwar while the indigenous INS Vikrant that is under construction will be based at Visakhapatnam. The third carrier would be rotated around whenever one of these is in refit or in need for repairs.
The navy chief also pointed to a power competition for the maritime domain, referring to the increase in Chinese force levels to match the US that uses carriers as its main weapon to project power worldwide. “The ongoing crisis in the straits of Hormuz, confrontations in the South China Sea and increasing use of naval platforms for political signalling are unmistakable fallouts of the great power competition in the maritime domain,” Admiral Karambir Singh said.