US and Indian navies hold sixth meeting on aircraft carrier technology - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Sunday 5 March 2023

US and Indian navies hold sixth meeting on aircraft carrier technology

The Royal Navy, with two 65,000-tonne conventional carriers, wants the Indian Navy to equip its next carrier with British Rolls-Royce, MT-30 gas turbines that are on both its carriers – HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales. However, the Indian Navy wants to work with the US Navy, picking up its expertise in carrier-borne operations


By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 5th March 23


With India’s military still undecided about whether to build a second indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC-2), or to make do with its two current 45,000-tonne carriers – INS Vikramaditya bought from Russia, and the first indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC-1), called INS Vikrant, which was built in Cochin – experts from the Indian and US navies met in Delhi last week to discuss cooperating on aircraft carrier technology.


With the US Navy regarding their Indian counterpart as a key partner in holding the line against an aggressive China in the Indo-Pacific, Washington and New Delhi agreed in January 2015 to work together in enhancing India’s capability in carrier-borne aircraft operations.


“The 6th meeting of the Joint Working Group on Aircraft Carrier Technology Co-operation (JWGACTC), constituted under the auspices of the Indo–US Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), was organised in India from February 27 to March 3,” stated India’s ministry of defence (MoD) on Saturday.


The US Navy, the world’s premier force in carrier-borne operations, operates a fleet of 11 nuclear powered, 100,000-tonne carriers. However, cooperation with the US is limited by the Indian Navy’s decision against using nuclear-propulsion for the 65,000-tonne IAC-2.


Meanwhile, the UK’s Royal Navy, which operates two 65,000-tonne conventionally-powered carriers, is arguing for the Indian Navy to equip IAC-2 with the British Rolls-Royce, MT-30 gas turbines that provide electric propulsion to both its carriers – HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales.


However, the Indian Navy is keen to work with the US Navy and to pick up its operational practices and expertise in carrier-borne operations.


“During the meeting, Rear Admiral Downey acknowledged India’s status as one of the very few countries capable of constructing aircraft carriers and appreciated India’s landmark achievement of operating the indigenous aircraft, (the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft) from the indigenous carrier in a short span of time post commissioning of the ship,” said the MoD.


Another lucrative field that Washington is eyeing is the Indian Navy’s on-going acquisition of 57 multi-role carrier borne fighters (MRCBF) for its current and future aircraft carriers. US aerospace major, Boeing, which accounts for most of the $18-20 billion worth of weaponry that Washington has sold India since 2005, is pressing hard for its F/A-18E/F Super Hornet to win a $7-8 billion Indian Navy contract for 57 aircraft carrier-borne fighters.


In competition with the Super Hornet is French company Dassault’s Rafale Marine fighter. The Rafale cannot operate its twin-seat variant off a carrier. Both aircraft have been tested off the Indian Navy’s aircraft carriers and the winner of the contract is likely to be announced shortly.


US Navy carriers and the Super Hornet fighters that operate off them are designed and built for “catapult assisted take off but arrested recovery” (CATOBAR). In this, the aircraft getting airborne is accelerated to take-off speed by a steam or electro-magnetic catapult. India’s IAC-2 is likely to be a CATOBAR carrier.

Alternatively, aircraft can be launched according to STOBAR (short take off but arrested recovery) principles. In this, fighters get airborne by flying off a “ski-jump” at the end of the flight deck. In both these operating methods, the aircraft lands back by snagging its tail hook on an array of three arrestor wires spread across the deck, which drag them to a halt. 


Both INS Vikramditya and Vikrant are STOBAR carriers. Boeing has proved that the Super Hornet can operate off both STOBAR and CATOBAR carriers.


 A lesson that has been learned during the aircraft carrier cooperation is that the US and Indian navies are better drivers of operational cooperation than the Pentagon (US Department of Defense). It is the two navies that are now driving aircraft carrier technology cooperation (ACTC).


“An 11-member US delegation headed by Rear Admiral James Downey (a US Navy aircraft carrier expert) visited various defence and industrial installations in Delhi and Kochi,” said the MoD.


  1. As an engineer working on machine tools tech, i wish to tell our govt. people and defence people as well that don't waste time thinking and discussing . Build IAC 2, IAC 3, IAC 4 based on IAC 1. Learn from Chinese . Our IAC1 platform might not be best but certainly one of the best. The cost will reduce and expertise honed. Let these all be 45000 ton carriers . Just go ahead.

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