Britain pitches strongly for role in building India’s next aircraft carrier; navy says it's "a dilemma" - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

Home Top Ad


Wednesday 4 December 2019

Britain pitches strongly for role in building India’s next aircraft carrier; navy says it's "a dilemma"

Navy chief says choosing between US and UK is currently “a dilemma” (Above: HMS Queen Elizabeth)

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 5th Dec 19

Battles are raging around the Indian Navy’s proposed third aircraft carrier, INS Vishal, even though it is still on the drawing board. There is a bitter inter-services debate over whether India can afford another carrier. And the navy is also weighing competing claims from the US and the UK over who should provide design expertise.

Since 2015, the US Navy has guided the design of INS Vishal. But now, UK’s Royal Navy is offering its partnership on the grounds that INS Vishal is more similar to a British aircraft carrier than an American one.

In January 2015, the Indian and US navies established a joint working group (JWG) on aircraft carrier cooperation, with New Delhi reasoning that the US Navy has long been the world’s pre-eminent builder and operator of aircraft carriers. America operates 11 of the world’s 21 carriers and, by far, the most potent ones.

However, on November 28, in an India-UK meeting in New Delhi chaired by the two defence secretaries, London proposed British design consultancy for INS Vishal, given the recent induction of two new state-of-the-art aircraft carriers – Her Majesty’s Ship (HMS) Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales – into the Royal Navy.

Encouraged by the US, the Indian Navy has designed INS Vishal as a large, 65,000 tonne carrier, featuring a state-of-the-art American “electromagnetic aircraft launch system” (EMALS), and the ability to launch not just fighter aircraft, but also the game-changing E2D Hawkeye airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft. 

The US Navy’s continuing influencing could lead India to buy Northrop Grumman’s E2D Hawkeyes, but also Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet in an ongoing purchase of 57 naval fighters.

However, the UK has pointed out that the Indian decision to have full-electric propulsion, rather than nuclear propulsion for INS Vishal, makes it similar to the two Royal Navy carriers, which feature electric propulsion. All US aircraft carriers are nuclear powered.

Furthermore, the British have pointed out that INS Vishal will be exactly the same size – 65,000 tonnes – as the two Royal Navy carriers. US Navy carriers are far larger, at about 100,000 tonnes.

However, a standard US feature that is designed into INS Vishal will differentiate it from British carriers. Both HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales incorporate “short take off but arrested landing” (STOBAR) systems to operate their aircraft. Their on-board F-35C fighters take off from a ski-jump and land back by snagging their tail hooks on arrester wires laid across the deck, which then unspool, dragging the fighter to a halt on the 200-metre-long deck.

INS Vishal, however, like all US carriers, incorporates a “catapult take off but arrested landing” (CATOBAR) system. In its latest EMALS version, the aircraft is accelerated to take-off speed with the help of an electromagnetic catapult (older US carriers use a steam catapult), while it lands the same way as on STOBAR vessels, using arrestor wires.

INS Vishal, which the navy terms “Indigenous Aircraft Carrier – 2” (IAC-2), will therefore be a hybrid vessel, combining American and British features. 

“The broad contours of IAC-2, to be constructed in India, will be a 65,000-tonne CATOBAR carrier with electric propulsion,” stated navy chief, Admiral Karambir Singh, on Tuesday.

Queried by Business Standard about whether the US or the UK would provide design consultancy for INS Vishal, Singh admitted it was “a dilemma.”

“The issue about nuclear propulsion versus full electric propulsion [is one factor]. There are also other issues like EMALS and AAG (aircraft arrester gear), which only the Americans have. So this is going to be one of our dilemmas on how to handle this consultancy – who all to approach. So we will have to work on this more carefully,” said Singh.

Asked whether consultancy was possible with both UK, and US, Singh admitted: “I’m not sure of the answer; how you go about it? But we will have to think through this.”

For London, this is a mouth-watering opportunity not just to enter a lucrative, multi-billion dollar construction programme, but also to restore flagging defence relations. The Royal Navy shaped the Indian Navy in its formative years, with British admirals heading the Indian Navy until 1958. India’s first two aircraft carriers – INS Vikrant and INS Viraat – were both purchased from the Royal Navy.

Last week, in the India-UK Defence Consultative Group, UK officials pressed for reviving the strategic relationship. They promised deeper technology transfer, unlike the straight-up US defence sales that have provided India with little high technology.

“Partnering the UK in no way jeopardises the Indo-US relationship, or damages interoperability in the Indo-Pacific. Britain is America’s closest ally,” said a senior UK official, contrasting this with buying weaponry from Russia.

The British side is also learned to have pitched strongly to participate in building India’s next six submarines under Project 75-I. “We have not bid in that project, because the Royal Navy only operates nuclear subs. However, we can offer systems and niche technologies that greatly enhance a submarine’s capabilities. And we will be willing to transfer real technology,” said the official.


  1. Will we use this aircraft carrier in south china sea to threaten china with just 40 Rafales at best.

  2. The caption and article both refer to the UK's carrier as "HMS Queen Elizabeth II".

    This is not accurate: the carrier is called HMS Queen Elizabeth, and is named after Queen Elizabeth I (who lived some hundreds of years ago). The current queen is Queen Elizabeth II, and the carrier is not named after her.

  3. UK has expertise in building STOBAR carriers and our VISHAL is going to be a CATOBAR carrier. So US is the only one with expertise in CATOBAR carriers.
    Also Indian Navy wants EMALS integrated on its carriers, so US is the only go.

  4. NSR says ---

    Say a big no …
    India must order an improved copy of IAC-1 as IAC-2... for a total of three carriers...
    But India should have only two carrier battle groups... as it needs a lot more submarines right now...

    one carrier in Arabian Sea/Indian Ocean,
    one carrier in Bay of Bengal/Indian Ocean,
    one carrier in dry dock for repair, refurbishment, refit, etc ,,, this process takes anywhere from a year to two years...

    Also, we do not know the quality of INS Vikramaditya… so hurry up with order IAC-2 in Cochin Shipyard...

  5. @Anonymous 11:55

    Thanks very much for your valuable input. I learned something from that. Have made corrections in the article.

    Keep visiting and keep correcting such bloopers, which I am only too prone to make!


  6. Not just bloopers, false propaganda, biased views, political spin etc..., just to name a few!!
    Reason for that - nursing a psychological injury
    Get well soon

  7. Let us first get our mine sweepers first. Then equip all warships with adequate number of helicopters.

    No point in simply jumping to such big carrier then crying no money.

    Suggest the next carrier is a design derived from existing IAC, with capability to host F18 & Rafale in addition to MiG29.
    This will remove a flaw from existing design.

    Navy should also begin to setup a shore based CATOBAR system.

  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


Recent Posts

Page 1 of 10412345...104Next >>Last