India is fast tracking its project to build an indigenous aircraft carrier, since the country’s oldest carrier is scheduled to retire next year, The Times Of India reports.
India’s current INS Viraat aircraft carrier is set to retire next year after 56 years of service in the Indian navy. With a fleet of only 11 ageing Harrier jump jets and a host of mechanical and restoration costs, it isn’t economically or strategically viable to continue operating the vessel.
As the retirement will leave the Indian navy with only one other carrier, the INS Vikramaditya. So India has decided to speed up the development of its own aircraft carrier, according to The Times of India.
Although the vessel’s exact size and propulsion system are still being proposed, India is planning for the Vishal to be a fully modern aircraft carrier. The Diplomat reports that the Vishal will displace 65,000 tons and will be constructed with US-provided Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch Systems (EMALS). This would allow the carrier to launch aircraft at a faster rate with improved ease, compared to previous Indian carriers.
Aside from EMALS, USNI News reports THAT the carrier will likely also feature a catapult assisted take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) system similar to what’s used aboard US Nimitz-class aircraft carriers. This system would allow the Vishal to launch a range of heavy fighters as well as surveillance planes.
The Times of India estimates that the Vishal should be complete within 10 to 12 years. The development of the carrier will likely receive significant help from a bilateral agreement between the US and India that lays the ground for “a working group to explore aircraft carrier technology sharing and design.”
Aside from the Vishal, India is developing a smaller carrier, the INS Vikrant. Much of that vessel has already been constructed, and it is expected to be ready for induction in 2018 to 2019. Ultimately, India is hoping to field a fleet of five carriers of various sizes to solidify its presence in the Indian Ocean.
India’s drive to create an aircraft carrier fleet is a reflection of the country’s ongoing competition with China.
Beijing has been steadily investing in port installations in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar. These ports have allowed for Chinese merchant vessels, in addition to submarines and warships, to have safe harbour throughout the entirety of the Indian Ocean.
China recently raised Indian suspicions by docking submarines at the port of Colombo in nearby Sri Lanka, and there is concern that Beijing is trying to construct a “string of pearls” through the Indian Ocean in order to establish naval and commercial superiority in India’s backyard. China and India also have a number of simmering territorial disputes.
China is expecting to have two operational aircraft carriers by the 2020s. The construction of these carriers, and China’s increasing push into the Indian Ocean, could pit these two rising powers against each other for maritime control.
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