Budgetary woes put India’s super-carrier “INS Vishal” on hold - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Sunday 5 May 2019

Budgetary woes put India’s super-carrier “INS Vishal” on hold

INS Vikrant (seen at its launch) will join the fleet in 2021. Then, if the MoD has its way, there will be no third carrier

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 6th May 19

Global shipbuilders and analysts were abuzz on Sunday after the British media reported that New Delhi had approached London to buy the detailed blueprints for the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth. 

According to the “exclusive” report in Mirror, the plans will be used to build the Indian Navy’s second indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC-2), which is called INS Vishal. 

In fact, INS Vishal has remained stalled since 2017, with India’s ministry of defence (MoD) declining to accord financial clearance. The MoD believes the coming years’ defence budgets cannot cater for the exorbitant cost of an aircraft carrier.

INS Vishal was conceived as a 65,000 tonne aircraft carrier, embarking 55 aircraft and costing Rs 60,000 crore. After the MoD objected to the cost, the navy downsized the proposal to a 50,000-tonne carrier costing about Rs 50,000 crore. But the MoD remains unwilling to accord funding or sanction. 

The Indian Navy has been talking to multiple prospective partners about providing design partnership for INS Vishal. Besides UK-headquartered BAE Systems and Thales, which built HMS Queen Elizabeth and are now working on a second carrier, HMS Prince of Wales; the Indian Navy also has a joint working group (JWG) with the US Pentagon for designing an aircraft carrier. In fact, the proposed design of INS Vishal bears a strong American signature, with advanced features like the “electro-magnetic aircraft launch system” (EMALS) that exists only on the latest US aircraft carrier, USS Gerald R Ford.

The navy believes that, since the US Navy is the acknowledged global leader in carrier-borne aviation, it would be the best possible partner.

However, in 2016, navy headquarters decided to go in for a conventionally powered aircraft carrier, rather than a nuclear-powered carrier like those the US Navy operates. Since HMS Queen Elizabeth is conventionally powered, the navy entered tentative talks with its builder, BAE Systems, for design consultancy on the propulsion system.

However, the Indian Navy has ruled out operating the F-35B Lightning II fighter, which the Royal Navy carriers embark. Those “short take off and vertical landing” (STOVL) aircraft are the most troubled variant of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) programme. Therefore, the Indian Navy favours the F-35C “catapult-assisted take off but arrested landing” (CATOBAR) variant, or the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet that currently equips US Navy carriers.

That effectively amounts to an indigenous aircraft carrier with a conventional propulsion system similar to Royal Navy carriers, and an aviation complex based upon US Navy carrier design.

However, all this remains on hold until the MoD clears the project. Navy planners have pointed out that, while INS Vishal will indeed be the military’s single most expensive defence platform, its Rs 50,000 crore cost would be spread over a ten-year design and construction period, amounting to an annual average of Rs 5,000 crore.

They also point out that New Delhi’s commitment to being the foremost navy in the Indian Ocean makes a third aircraft carrier essential – allowing the navy to operate one carrier each off the western and eastern seaboard, while a third is sequentially in refit and long maintenance.

Currently, the navy operates only a single carrier, the 44,000-tonne INS Vikramaditya bought from Russia. Joining the fleet by 2021 will be the 40,000-tonne INS Vikrant, which is currently being completed at Cochin Shipyard Ltd.

Lobbying strenuously against clearing INS Vishal is the Indian Air Force (IAF), which wants to retain control of combat aviation assets. Since World War II, when aircraft carriers came into their own, air forces the world over have considered carrier-borne aviation an encroachment on their turf.

Following this tradition, the IAF argues to the MoD that land-based fighters, operating from airfields along the coast in peninsular southern India, can project combat aviation power into the Indian Ocean. This argument underlines the vulnerability of aircraft carriers to being sunk, a threat that bases ashore do not face.

“The outgoing government has put this on the back burner. But this will be one of the most pressing procurement decisions on the incoming government’s plate,” says a recently retired admiral.


  1. Rafale is more important as it was visible after balakot. We need 150 more rafales to counter China Pakistan threat.

    Chinese stealth planes etc will be co produced by pak as part of road and belt initiative.

    In the next 20 years warfare strategy shaIl undergo a paradigm change with AI and drone becoming the central elements.

    We continue to live in 2nd world war mindset....

  2. NSR says ---

    Forget about Super Carrier INS Vishaal… India does not need one...Rs. 60,000 crores for it is a waste...
    India already managed to build IAC-1 Vikrant...

    Just build another copy of IAC-1 INS Vikrant with some needed modifications based on IAC-1 manufacturing and so India will have three carriers for about next 2 decades or so...

    1. One for Arabian Sea...
    2. One for Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean...
    3. One in Dry Dock for repair, refurbishment, refit, etc

    During two decades, improve design and development and manufacturing processes to come up with an aircraft carrier that suits Indian needs very well and can be manufactured in India with its own technology and manpower skills...

    India needs more Nuclear Subs and Conventional subs right now...

    India needs 36 additional Rafales at cheaper prices right now with their meteors....

    India needs SU-35 with longer BVRMs to regain advantage over F-16...
    India badly needs to upgrade SU-30MKI to Super Sukhois so it can have a better AESA radar to guide BRMs...

    India can order a lot of Naval Tejas MkIA and station them in Andaman, Lakshadweep, and at all Naval Stations so they can scramble to destroy enemy ships...

    Aircraft carrier can not be everywhere...USA Carriers are Nuclear and their fighters are long range ones...

    Forget about super carriers...India needs its least...Period...

  3. If Pakistan is the enemy why do we need a carrier, when India already has an adjacent land mass as a platform for aircraft? A mobile platform can always be moved away for safety, but will be vulnerable to massive waves of attacks from the PAF when it’s back into range.
    The only other enemy is China, are we going to sail our carriers thousands of miles into the S China sea to attack China? Why not walk a few hundred yards and attack via our border? It’s closer, much cheaper and less risky.
    The Indian peninsular and the A & N islands can be fortified by rockets and land based aircraft we do not need a mobile sea platform to launch aircraft to defend the mainland from a sea invasion.
    Our oil tankers are well protected by sailing out of range of the PAF and by destroyers - in any case a war with Pakistan will not last months to necessitate an effective blockade so why a carrier?
    Therefore are our carriers a ridiculous vanity project with no strategic value to India?
    Just big stick to flaunt, to keep up as one of the big boys?
    We like to take part in exercises with the American and Japanese fleets, but we are not part of the American project. We do like to send our carriers on a training jolly with the Americans, the hegemon of the Pacific, to integrate with their fleet - but has anyone pointed out to our admirals how absurd this is given our geography.
    If China is the enemy, the costly air wing on our carrier on exercise in the Pacific would be vastly better deployed on an airfield in Assam.
    Could any of our admirals provide a credible answer, given the huge expenditure, where these carriers and their protective warships fit in?
    Could India’s foremost defence correspondent Ajai Shukla enlighten us the puzzled Indian public, what exactly is the long term Grand strategic vision of these Admirals?

  4. Country like India should not waste resources on Aircraft Carriers.

  5. Instead of Carriers we need to have a underwater nuclear missile launch platforms, to carry long range SLBMs.
    so that if there is a massive nuclear strike and if our country and its leadership are obliterated the enemy (China or even the USA) can be assured of retaliation.
    Our Arihant Class boats are not up to the job as a long range platform lacking in size and endurance regardless of what this Defence Minister claims.
    A challenge should be thrown open to Indias excellent shipyards like Larsen and Turbo to develop four Nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines of about 25,000 tons with at least 20 ballistic missile tubes for India’s future SLBMs (developed if all goes well by DRDO) to deliver our nuclear warheads.
    India’s strategic deterrent can provided by four boats, two on long range underwater petrol, one being provisioned at port, and one on refit, training and maintenance.
    India could have the ability to position these submarines anywhere in the world.
    At an approximate cost of $15 billion over twenty years these boats would be cheaper than aircraft carriers.

  6. I hope the future government will scrap this plan. Instead India should channel those funds to build more capital warships that include more indigenous components. That would allow for incremental increase in absorption of critical technology. Especially stealth. There is also a need to build a carrier battle group around each carrier, it can't go alone, it needs other ships to defend it, a standard US carrier battle group has 2 destroyers, 6 frigates and a few submarines. Can India afford to build the air craft carrier and then still have some cash to spare for those ships that have to accompany the carrier? The prudent thing to do is to build more missile destroyers and submarines with a focus on building more capabilities and capacities within the Indian shipbuilding industry. Including a reactor to power any carrier in the future, you don't have to rush to build carriers.

  7. there is no money left to invest in 3rd carrier, we should only work on the design for now. anyways the 2nd carrier itself is 2 years away, this time can be used for freezing the design.
    besides is CSL prepared to make a large carrier? they will get busy with the latest contract of 8 ASW's and that will keep them going for the next 5 years or so. not sure if they are equipped to handle projects in parallel.

  8. Good. They need to scrap it. Monumental waste of national resources.

    Let us focus on northern borders & getting basics right in the navy.
    We have not ordered heavy weight torpedoes for our subs. Nor 127 mm canes for our warships.
    Navy needs NLUH, NMRH, mine hunters, anti sub boats now.
    We are not even seeing a short terms plan to deploy USV for patrolling, fire fighting etc.

  9. In all frankness the navy should just stop looking to forget about a 65k ton class aircraft carrier with EMALS and big expensive aricrafts. Rather they should look at the budget and be realistic. If they want another aircraft carrier, they should just duplicate the Vikrant. Buy more of the MIG 29K and get Russia to iron out all the problems with the fighter. This way they can standardize the air arm fighter fleet and get MiG to open up an MRO facility in India to service the Mig 29's of the IAF and the IN.

    Once when Vikramaditya retires and the budget permits they can then consider upgrading to a 65k ton aircraft carrier.

    The Navy should focus more on ASW capabilities for the time being. Thank god the ASW boat contract was signed. NMRH, P8I's is the need of the hour. The capital warships must be protected from the submarine threat emanating in the region.

    The second focus should be on effective sea denial capabilities. 6 additional scorpenes with AIP should be ordered. More SSBN's, SSN's and P75I will also provide credible deterrence.

  10. The biggest liability in the navy is a surface warship....it can be hit by LRMR aircraft as well as submarines...

    Let's stop making these.

    Let's only concentrate on airforce and army. In fact why have a navy?

    Our threat is only Pakistan.

    This has been our mindset since the mughal era. That's why we were ruled by each and every European maritime power.

    The very fact that we are communicating in English is a testimony of MARITIME POWER.


  11. ++++ Vikram_prasad said... "Rafale is more important as it was visible after balakot. We need 150 more rafales to counter China Pakistan threat"

    =>>> It's more about 270-300 needed and same for the [potential, since still no decision has been taken] "rafalized Tejas Mk1 (98kN M88/Kaveri-K9+; RBE2/AESA; active stealth; mod of internal structure to add 800-1000L fuel).
    Since there are F414 already stockpiled, it would be clever, since it's a drop-in to F404, to fit F414 directly on already available Tejas, and add conformal tanks (maybe extend the weight per hardpoint too).
    Interesting point : some partners have leaked the real range of Meteor : 300km+ !!!!!

    IAF needs no less than 42-45 squadrons, not counting INAF needs. With 14-15 Su-30MKI squadrons, as much with Rafale and Tejas is needed.
    "Si vis pacem, para bellum" - Julius Caesar (if you want peace, prepare war)

    ++++ Vikram_prasad said... "Chinese stealth planes etc will be co produced by pak as part of road and belt initiative."
    =>>> Do you know that upcoming Rafale F4 upgrade (already ordered by France) will get total radar invisibility? ONERA has achieved its plasma stealth system, with a big advantage on what Russians tested in 2007 : you still can use your radar, radio, datalink and the aircraft doesn't glows like a X-mas tree or a hippy plasma ball. More powerful engines, rated Mach2+, even more payload

    I'd highly recommand to consider such type of custom quad/quintuple racks to load Meteors :
    It would allow a single Rafale to carry 28 if not 34 Meteors with 2 MICA-NG, maybe even more : IDK which weight the external wing hardpoint can sustain. conformal tanks could be a good thing for combat air patrol :

    With its capablity to take-off in 400m from a road, having camouflaged forward bases (Swedish style) with e.g. only two Rafales in alert armed the way I described would mean a serious chalenge to any intruder... And they would cost less than a battalion of S-400, even if protected by e.g. Iron-Dome + Rheinmetall's MANTIS/SkyShield/SkyRanger

    ++++ Vikram_prasad said... "In the next 20 years warfare strategy shaIl undergo a paradigm change with AI and drone becoming the central elements."
    =>>> Rafale F4 already will have AI and augmented reality. Rafale-B has already been tested successfully using nEUROn as a wingman, in fact, nEUROn is still the only drone having done team manoeuvres. The idea to control several drone wingmen is ongoing for a while at Dassault.Drones may not even be able to approach an area if they face MANTIS/SkyShield/SkyRanger at ground level

  12. 1.)

    As I know a lot about history of aircraft carriers and some were built in surprising ways. All I will point has potential ways to go to efficiently modify already existing ships designs has already been used in the past, these things were just forgotten by most. I will chose several types of ships I see as potential clients and explain what to do.

    These LHD were conceived in a modular way. Initially, they were to be 214.5m long but were reduced to 199m for cost cutting purposes. As many ships were extended in the past, e.g. HMS Victorious (R38) was elongated to 237.21m and was able to operate 28t Bucaneer and Phantom-II while the 226.5m HMS Hermes (R12) was able to operate the Bucaneer before being modified for STOLV (and becoming the INS Viraat too). HMS Eagle (R05) and HMS Ark Royal (R09) were only 245m long and also both operate the pretty heavy F-4 and Bucaneer.

    > Beng built to MIL-STD with a double hull, it's logically my 1st choice

    > The mobularity of the Mistral BPC makes it a good client to be elongated to 230, and eventually 245.5m between parallels since modules are 15.5m long. in the case of a 230m version, extending the landing deck to 238-240m is not a problem.

    > Look at HMS Eagle (R05)'s guts :
    Oh oh, a 2 stories hangar? She wasn't the only one in this case.
    Now look at the guts of a BPC Mistral :
    It won't be a problem to have a two stories aircraft hangar here too for most of the ship's length, especially since a huge hospital and army HQ become irrelevant, we're not doing an amphibious ship. Using 2 external lateral elevators able to lift two Rafale-M at once won't be a problem too.
    A 2 stories hangar would allow to carry as much if not more aircraft than a super-carrier

  13. 2.)
    > Both Essex and Midway class were initially straight decks and an angled deck "plug" was later added to use jets. USS Midway even had her deck extended a 2nd time.
    I'd highly recommand a 203m long angled deck since it allows a Hawkeye to turn by itself after deck landing, we extended the Charlles De Gaulle's one from 199m to 203m for this reason : if you need a tractor, you will block the landing for many minutes and so you may lose aircraft low on fuel : you're over the sea and there is nowhere else to land.

    > Money can be spared by not having an island on the deck! Moreover, these create vortexes which aren't great on landing. Simply put 1 or 2 masts, preferably stealthy ones like on FREMM frigates. C'mon, we're in XXI century, there are electro-optics that can provide 360° watch even through fog and at impressive distances. Note that WW2 Japan had 4 classes of aircraft carriers without islands.

    > The former well-dock could receive a nuclear reactor and allow to... rapidly take it out from the ship in case of meltdown, or simply to exchange the uranium rods outside the ship while the spare reactor would be installed. In case of nuke-propelled ships, changing the rods inside the ship can take many months

    > With the newest generation of Siemens turbines, efficiency of a nuke reactor jumps from 35% to 60%, meaning that e.g. the French €150M Alsthom K15 which generates 150MWth will produce 90MWe. Alsthom-RR now produces 21.5MW Mermaid pods (see Queen Mary-2)... 64.5MW propulsion = 87.72k hp... Pretty serious for a ship that may not be over 30-35k tons.

    > Forget about EMALS! Way too expensive: $800M and the Ford-class has 1.4GWth on the 2 reactors, whch are not enough : you need enormous accumulators. Adding EMALS on the QE-class would have costed $1.5B...
    Take a look here :
    The G.Ford's "pasha" has lobbied like hell to get at least a single ICCALS. DoD refused. ICCALS are 4x more powerful than EMALS, the cost is $60M for 4 catapults, 95% of parts are available off the shelves on civilian market, you burn 4 gallons of kerosene per launch, they also can do progressive launches. The system is very compact and can be installed on any flat-top LHD/LHA or convered civilian ship, no need for huge steam system too.
    Since you pack muchmore power, no need for 94m catapults, the 76m C13-3 used on the DeGaulle would be enough to take a fully loaded C-130 airborne.

  14. 3.)
    Other possibilities : converting civilian ships
    MV Tønsberg-Class
    > The Tønsberg is 265m long for a 32.27m beam, it's the biggest class of RoRo ever built.
    And again, there is more than enough internal height to allow a 2 stories huge hangar
    The size would be perfect, thus some mods may be necessary to adapt to MIL-STD or maybe have clever ideas, e.g hermetically welding many ISO-containers, themselves being welded in the lower hold(s) to create a buoy effect, would some torpedoes hit. Seriously coating the outside/inside with many layers of kevlar+ceramic+glass fiber etc (?) obtained mostly from recycling may offer very interesting and very thick cheap protection.

    e.g. CMA/CGM's Saint Exupery-class, 400m long, built by HHIC-Phil, or Maersk's 399m Triple-E class (Daewoo).
    It'd be useless to consider a 2 stories hangar, any way, these ships' hulls are not enough high, and a 400m length allows already an enormous hangar.
    There will not be a need for a lot of external superstructures to create an efficient angled deck. Considering the size/weight, two K15 and 6 Mermaid pods could be considered...
    Note that a fully loaded Rafale takes off in 400m. Add the speed of the ship, it's even less. Since all Rafales have a hook, the cheaper land version can be used. One could even consider simply covering such ships with asphalt/tarmac, then linking 3-4 would make a floating airbase abe to use Su-30MKI, Tejas, A400M, C-130, C-295 and some other aircraft. With 5 ships, one can consider operating the EMB-145/AEW&C, the Global 5000/ELINT, the Gulfstream III EW/ELINT, Il-76/78, Beriev A-50 and even a C-17 if not at MTOW.

    > A Saint Exupery-class ship costs about $130M, a Triple-E class costs less than $200M. No idea for Tønsberg-Class. The 199m version of a Mistral BC which is absolutely built MIL-STD costs €451.6M. IMHO, it's feasible to have a nuclear aircraft carrier for about $1.3-1.5B, it could potentially fall under the billion by 'customising' a civilian ship and keeping non-nuclear propulsion.

  15. 4.)
    > Considering more defences than on usual aircraft carriers :
    The Thales GS-100 as main radar, maybe consider installing the Stradvaius OTH antennas all around the vessel (????), so she can monitor anything on the surface up to 200NM radius.
    Install 6 defence external platforms, 1 at the bow, 1 at the stern, 2 starboard and 2 port. Use a Rheinmetall MANTIS CIWS/C-RAM system (6 turrets with the 35mm Oelikon Millenium gun. now a 50MW Laser can be added to each gun turret), 1 turret per platform, then Iron-Dome : 1 launcher of 20x Tamir per starboard+port platforms, add 12 or 16 VLS cells for each, using Aster-30 or Rafael"s stunner missiles.
    Thus, it's clear that it would increase the cost but considering the serious anti-ship missiles around today...

    Sorry if I was long exposing it but finding ways to have aircraft carriers on the cheap necessitates to think a bit out of the box.
    Note that I based on concepts that have been for the most of them already been used or, when it comes to a sea base, although not having been chosen, had very advanced studies, the only point I consider I innovate is the idea of doing a modular sea-base from container ships which would need something efficient at linking them together as main technical challenge.

  16. 5.) Ooops, Thales GS-1000, not GS-100


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