Navy chief insists that a third aircraft carrier is needed for “aspirational India” with a $5 trillion economy - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Thursday 3 December 2020

Navy chief insists that a third aircraft carrier is needed for “aspirational India” with a $5 trillion economy

Karambir: “Navies are all about reach and sustenance. We cannot be a navy that is tethered to the shore” 


By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 4th Dec 20


Navy chief Admiral Karambir Singh has revealed that the navy is also playing a role in the ongoing Sino-India troop confrontation in Ladakh, with its surveillance aircraft obtaining intelligence for the army.


Addressing the media in Delhi on Thursday, on the eve of Navy Day, Singh said the navy was prepared to face the “dual challenge from Covid-19 and Chinese attempts to change the Line of Actual Control”.


He said the navy's two Sea Guardian drones, taken on lease last month from the US, along with its Boeing P-8I multi-mission aircraft and Heron drones were operating in the border areas of Eastern Ladakh.


Singh made an emphatic statement on the navy requiring a third aircraft carrier, even though Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat earlier questioned the need to spend a large sum — estimated at about ~50,000 crore, inclusive of the carrier’s air complement — on a single warship. The Indian Air Force (IAF), too, opposes a third aircraft carrier, arguing that it can provide air support more effectively from ashore.


“As a navy, we are absolutely clear about the need for a third carrier. Air operations are absolutely integral to naval operations, so air power at sea is absolutely required,” Singh said.


“Navies are all about reach and sustenance. For an aspirational country like India, which wants to become a $5-trillion economy, you have to be able to (project power) outwards. We cannot be a navy that is tethered to the shore,” he said.


He also revealed that the MiG-29K/KUB fighters, which operate from the navy’s lone aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, and which will also fly from INS Vikrant — the second carrier that will commence sea trials next year — would be replaced thereafter by the new Multi-Role Carrier Based Fighter (MRCBF).


“We have the MiG-29 presently operating from INS Vikramaditya, and they will also operate from the Vikrant and the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC). Meanwhile, to replace the MiG-29, we have taken up a case for the MRCBF, which we are trying to procure along with the air force.”


That means the MRCBF acquisition is being added to the IAF’s separate procurement of 114 medium fighters.


In an indication that the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) is putting up an indigenous rival to the MRCBF, Singh said: “A new development has been the Twin Engine Deck Based Fighter (TEDBF), which the DRDO has offered us. If that happens, we will have an indigenous deck-based fighter for the navy.”


Arguing that the DRDO fighter would come too late to be an alternative to the MRCBF, the chief said: “My hope is that the TEDBF would be able to enter service in the early 2030s.”

Karambir also indicated that the navy was not backing defence public sector undertaking (DPSU) Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd’s (HAL’s) bid to field a naval utility helicopter (NUH) in the navy’s tender for 111 light choppers.


“The NUH is being taken up under the 'strategic partner' (SP) model. That is intended to encourage the private industries to come up and to avoid DPSU monopolies. As a navy, we are focusing on ensuring that the SP model for the NUH succeeds,” he said.


The defence ministry has already accorded the acceptance of necessity for the NUH, he said. The next stage is shortlisting of Indian and foreign partners, when it will become clear whether HAL is being permitted to participate.


The navy is prioritising procurements to manage the post-Covid resource crunch, said Singh. “We are hoping that the economy is going to bounce back very quickly. In prioritising procurements, we are looking at areas like ordnance delivery (weapons), networking and unmanned solutions.”


Meanwhile, for the first time ever, the navy is looking at innovative funding models. “We have approached the Ministry of Finance with some funding models (similar to the Railway Finance Corporation). This is still under discussion and, if it comes through, we will possibly be able to provide better liquidity to (indigenous defence) shipyards,” said Singh.


The chief underlined the success of indigenous shipbuilding. “All 24 ships and submarines commissioned into the navy over the last six years have been built in India. Further, of the 43 ships and submarines currently under construction, 41 are being built at Indian shipyards.”


These include the aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, four Project-15B destroyers, seven Project-17A stealth frigates and four Scorpene class submarines. 


  1. India definitely needs a Third Aircraft carrier immediately...

    Yes, I have written about it here and there for many years...

    1. AC for Arabian Sea/Indian Ocean
    2. AC for Bay of Bengal/Indian Ocean
    3. AC in Dry Dock for repairs, replenishments, refits, etc which takes a year to two years...

    With third AC, India can afford to deploy 2 ACs at any given time...

    So ordering an improved version of IAC-1 urgently is the need of the day...

    India must not go for a bigger one at this time as it is still developing miniaturized Nuclear Reactors for SSBN Ballistic and SSN Attack submarines...
    When the Nuke Reactors reach intended power levels, then India can plan for a Nuclear Powered Aircraft Carrier...

    For now, India needs too many Naval systems like ATAS, Torpedoes, Submarines, Naval helicopters, warships, etc to waste money on Nuclear aircraft carrier...

  2. Quite right.No mine countermeasure vessels ( MCMs), no torpedoes for subs,no ASW helicopters for capital ships, no TAS systems for many surface combatants, and an inventory of aging subs,none including the much delated,over budget Scorpenes with an AIP system,the sub fleet which should be the top priority for the IN.In addition,the total lack of a long range maritime strike aircraft which can carry several Brahmos,Nirbhay and future hypersonic ASMs is a huge void .

    Neither does the IAF have a strategic bomber requirement. The 3rd. carrier can be an enlarged sister ship of IAC-1.Alternatively,the amphibious warship requirements can be leveraged into a new light carrier design which even the US is contemplating to complement its super carriers.These would be better placed to deal with lesser crises not requiring a huge CBG,a more cost- effective option. 2 conventional angled deck STOBAR amphib./ light carrier of 35 K t would be sufficient for the IN to dominate the IOR in addition to the huge potential of basing naval LRMP and supersonic maritime strike aircraft like Backfires on the mainland and ANC and Lakshadweep island territories with tanker support too for out of IOR operations in the Asia-Pacific.


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