Countering China: India To Build Five To Six More Aircraft Carriers In Future — Defence Minister Rajnath Singh

Ujjwal Shrotryia

May 15, 2024, 01:42 PM | Updated 02:03 PM IST

INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant, India's aircraft carriers, operating together at sea.
INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant, India's aircraft carriers, operating together at sea.

The Defence Minister Rajnath Singh yesterday revealed India’s plans to build five to six more aircraft carriers.

Moreover, he also said that India will soon start building the third aircraft carrier, a 45,000-tonne sister ship of INS Vikrant. He said, “India has one more carrier — INS Vikramaditya — sourced from Russia in 2013. We will not stop at that (three carriers). We will make five, six more.”

If these plans to build five to six more aircraft carriers materialise, it will go a long way in giving the Indian Navy quantitative parity, if not an advantage, against China.

China has revealed plans to have five to six aircraft carriers by the 2030s.

It currently has two aircraft carriers, the Soviet ex-Varyag, Liaoning, and the Shandong, with its third and the newest 80,000-85,000 tonne aircraft carrier, Fujian, just completing trials.

It is expected that the Chinese will permanently station one of its CBGs in the Indian Ocean, supported by its various bases in Djibouti (on the western edge of the Indian Ocean), Ream in Cambodia (on the eastern edge of the Indian Ocean), and Gwadar in Pakistan, Hambantota in Sri Lanka, and Kyaukpyu in Myanmar.

The three aircraft carriers will help India deter China.

The remaining new aircraft carriers, which Rajnath Singh announced, will allow the Indian Navy to project power far beyond the Indian Ocean, potentially even in the South China Sea (SCS).

The first two Chinese aircraft carriers, the Liaoning and the Shandong, use the Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (STOBAR) method to launch and land aircraft, while the Fujian is a flat-top carrier that uses the Catapult Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) method. The catapult system it uses is a newer generation Electromagnetic Aircraft Launching System (EMALS) instead of the older steam-based catapults.

The carriers using the STOBAR method have some limitations, particularly in the maximum payload with which an aircraft can take off and land from the aircraft carrier.

The CATOBAR-based aircraft carrier, like the Fujian, suffers no such limitations. This will also allow the launching of KJ-600 airborne early warning and control systems (AWACS) from Fujian, which increases the situational awareness of the carrier battle group (CBG) manifold.

No Indian aircraft carrier uses the CATOBAR method, instead using the cheaper and simpler STOBAR method.

To learn more about why sea-based AWACS are important, read this.

The Indian Navy from the beginning wanted a large aircraft carrier of the 65,000-tonne class with CATOBAR. However, this plan was shelved due to a lack of budget. Instead, the Navy will now get a smaller INS Vikrant-sized aircraft carrier weighing just 45,000 tonnes.

Having three aircraft carriers has been a longstanding demand of the Navy. The Navy says that having three aircraft carriers will allow simultaneous operation of two aircraft carriers on either seaboard, one in the Bay of Bengal and the other in the Arabian Sea, while the third one remains in maintenance and overhaul.

The five to six aircraft carriers will also require a large number of supporting ships and infrastructure.

A CBG will have a submarine, multiple frigates, destroyers, corvettes, and a tanker ship all protecting the aircraft carrier, apart from the large aviation component.

All this requires significant monetary investments.

To make this a reality, the government needs to do a lot more in increasing the defence budget, particularly the capital head of the budget.

Staff Writer at Swarajya. Writes on Indian Military and Defence.

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