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For Navy, Small Aircraft Carriers Limit Options

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For Navy, Small Aircraft Carriers Limit Options


The IAC-II will be modelled on INS Vikrant

India’s naval planners deciding to opt for a smaller carrier seems to be the result of diminishing options

by Abhijit Singh

Last week, India’s Defence Procurement Board, a key defence ministry agency, approved a plan for the Indian Navy (IN) to acquire a second indigenous aircraft carrier. To be built at a cost of over ₹40,000 crore, the IAC-II will be modelled on INS Vikrant, India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier, commissioned in September 2022. The new warship is intended to bolster India’s maritime security posture against China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy, whose expanding incursions into the Indian Ocean region have generated anxiety in New Delhi. Even so, the move raises questions about the advisability of a second “light” 40,000-tonne aircraft carrier for the Indian Navy, instead of a “big” 60,000-tonne plus flattop.

It is instructive that the IN has, at least since 2018, been pushing for a big aircraft carrier. However, last year the Navy unexpectedly dropped its demand for a large carrier and announced that the next flattop would be a small one. What led to this reversal is still unclear, but it seems the IN is in a fiscal situation in which building a large aircraft carrier is no longer feasible.

The current focus of the Modi government is on achieving self-reliance for India, and the Navy is under pressure to prioritise the development of indigenous capabilities. With capital allocations down and the government having significantly reduced the acquisition of foreign systems, the Navy has neither the material resources needed nor an assurance of imports for the development and construction of a big carrier. Choosing a smaller flattop design potentially guarantees that Cochin Shipyard and its considerable expertise gained during the construction of the Vikrant are effectively utilised.

Naval planners seem to have taken another factor into their calculations. The Navy is also looking to induct indigenous twin-engine deck-based fighters by 2030. To operate these aircraft, which are intended to replace the MiG-29Ks, the IN will require at least two operational aircraft carriers. A light aircraft carrier makes better sense because a large flattop could take over two decades to enter service.

Nonetheless, the transition from a supercarrier to a modest flattop creates a predicament for the Navy. The problem with light carriers is that they are unsuitable for use in today’s dynamic and contested maritime environment.

In wartime conditions, a small carrier is constrained in its operations, particularly when faced with the adversary’s anti-access, anti-denial systems. In the absence of a catapult system to enable the launch of heavy, long-range multi-function aircraft, the ship is forced to operate within the engagement envelope of the adversary’s shore-based missiles and air defence systems.

Small carriers are also less capable than large deck carriers in other critical respects. Small flattops feature conventional propulsion (gas turbine or diesel), which provides less power than large carriers, which are typically nuclear-powered and have enough power to operate constantly in sensitive littorals. This results in reduced flexibility and agility in operations. A light carrier has a shorter operational range, a lower sortie generation rate, and less endurance than a large aircraft carrier, which can act as a floating base and deploy for lengthy periods. Small flattops also have less powerful onboard defence systems than larger carriers and are especially vulnerable to drone swarm attacks.

While small deck carriers are valuable in peacetime presence activities, their combat role is restricted unless their air wing consists of a strong aircraft with improved range, lethality, and survivability. Maritime planners today know the importance of having a fifth-generation carrier-based fighter that can deliver precision munitions over extended distances without endangering aircraft or aircrews. The IN does not have such an aircraft presently. Over the next decade, MiG-29Ks and Rafale marines would likely operate from Indian aircraft carriers. How successful these operations will be in deterring opponents in the far seas is hard to say.

There are, admittedly, two views on the subject of light aircraft carriers. Aircraft carrier sceptics believe that the flattop being expensive and vulnerable assets ought to be small and well-protected. With limited defensive capability against modern anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles, the carrier must not venture too close to enemy territory. Aircraft carrier proponents disagree, and point to the ship’s decisive ability to tip the psychological balance at sea. A large flattop, they rightly claim, is the only platform capable of maintaining a continuous and visible presence in the far-littorals. That complicated the adversary’s cost-benefit calculus in a way that no other asset is capable of doing.

If the sceptics are right and symbolic presence at sea is all that matters, then a light carrier is indeed a worthy asset. But if a carrier is meant for use in combat, then it must be capable of supporting larger numbers of long-range combat and reconnaissance aircraft. Whatever the rhetoric surrounding IAC-II in the media, China — with large aircraft carriers, such as the 65,000-tonne Shandong and the 80,000-tonne still-to-be-commissioned Fujian — is unlikely to be deterred by the presence of two 40,000-tonne Indian flattops in the Indian Ocean.

It is not that India’s naval planners are unaware of this reality. Their decision to opt for a smaller carrier seems to be the result of diminishing options. Despite the ship’s shortcomings, particularly its limited warfighting capability, a second Vikrant is all they can hope for at the moment. Yet, policymakers ought to know that a small aircraft carrier won’t cut it in combat with a worthy adversary in the littorals.

Abhijit Singh is head of the Maritime Policy Initiative at Observer Research Foundation





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INS Arihant’s Nuke-Capable K-4 Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile ‘Ready To Roll’

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INS Arihant’s Nuke-Capable K-4 Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile ‘Ready To Roll’


NEW DELHI: India tested its nuclear capable K-4 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), designed to have a strike range of 3,500 km, for the second time in six days on Friday. The missile test, as the one conducted on January 19, was undertaken from an undersea platform in the shape of a submersible pontoon off the coast of Andhra Pradesh according to a report by Rajat Pandit of TOI.

The solid-fuelled K-4 missile is being developed by DRDO to arm the country’s nuclear-powered submarines in the shape of INS Arihant and its under-development sister vessels. INS Arihant, which became fully operational in November 2018 to complete India’s nuclear triad, is currently armed with the much shorter K-15 missiles with a 750 km range.

“The K-4 is now virtually ready for its serial production to kick-off. The two tests have demonstrated its capability to emerge straight from underwater and undertake its parabolic trajectory,” said a source.

India has the land-based Agni missiles, with the over 5,000-km Agni-V inter-continental ballistic missile now in the process of being inducted, and fighter jets jury-rigged to deliver nuclear weapons. But INS Arihant gives the country’s deterrence posture much more credibility because nuclear-powered submarines armed with nuclear-tipped missiles are considered the most secure, survivable and potent platforms for retaliatory strikes.

Once the K-4 missiles are inducted, they will help India narrow the gap with countries like the US, Russia and China, which have over 5,000-km range SLBMs. The K-4 missiles are to be followed by the K-5 and K-6 missiles in the 5,000-6,000 km range class.

The 6,000-ton INS Arihant, which is propelled by an 83 MW pressurised light-water reactor at its core, in turn, is to be followed by INS Arighat, which was launched in 2017. The next generation of nuclear submarines, currently called S-4 and S-4*, will be much larger in size.





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After Upgradation, Sukhoi Su-30MKI Indigenisation To Reach 78%

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After Upgradation, Sukhoi Su-30MKI Indigenisation To Reach 78%


India has received clearance to upgrade 84 Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighter jets, which will result in 78% indigenization after the upgrade

In a significant step towards bolstering its military might with indigenously developed technology, India is poised to witness its Russian-origin Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighter jets evolve into a domestic platform. Speaking at a recent lecture.

The upgrade program is being led by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in partnership with the Indian Air Force and other partners. The upgrade is expected to cost US$7.5 billion.

The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) granted Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) for the upgrade. The upgrade is part of India’s efforts to improve the capabilities of its primary fighter aircraft, it refers to as the “Super Sukhoi”.

This initiative is a part of a larger effort by the Indian Air Force to modernize its ageing fleet. Air Chief Marshal Chaudhari asserted the critical role of an offensive air force as demonstrated in current global conflicts and emphasized India’s move towards an indigenized arsenal. To this end, the IAF has been proactive, from upgrading its Mirage 2000 to enhancing its MiG-29 fleet.

In summary, the IAF’s commitment to updating their combat forces with the latest technology, including shifting to fifth-generation fighter jets, ensures operational preparedness and a strong deterrence capability. The gradual indigenization of its air fleet marks a pivotal shift in India’s defence landscape, reducing dependency on foreign imports and fostering technological sovereignty.





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Akash Weapon System Exports For The Armenian Armed Forces Gathers Pace

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Akash Weapon System Exports For The Armenian Armed Forces Gathers Pace


According to unconfirmed reports, Armenia is a top contender for an export order for Akash SAM system manufactured by Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL).

While there is no official confirmation because of the sensitivities involved, documents suggest that the order for the same has already been placed the report further added.
There are nine countries, in turn, which have shown interest in the indigenously-developed Akash missile systems, which can intercept hostile aircraft, helicopters, drones and subsonic cruise missiles at a range of 25-km. They are Kenya, Philippines, Indonesia, UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Vietnam and Algeria reported TOI.

The Akash export version will also be slightly different from the one inducted by the armed forces. The 100-km range air-to-air Astra missiles, now entering production after successful trials from Sukhoi-30MKI fighters, also have “good export potential”, said sources.

Akash is a “tried, tested and successfully inducted systems”. Indian armed forces have ordered Akash systems worth Rs 24,000 crore over the years, and MoD inked a contract in Mar 2023 of over Rs 9,100 crores for improved Akash Weapon System

BDL is a government enterprise under the Ministry of Defence that was established in 1970. BDL manufactures surface-to-air missiles and delivers them to the Indian Army. BDL also offers its products for export.

Akash Weapon System

The AWS is a Short Range Surface to Air Missile (SRSAM) Air Defence System, indigenously designed and developed by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). In order to meet aerial threats, two additional Regiments of AWS with Upgradation are being procured for Indian Army for the Northern borders. Improved AWS has Seeker Technology, Reduced Foot Print, 360° Engagement Capability and improved environmental parameters.

The project will give a boost to the Indian missile manufacturing industry in particular and the indigenous defence manufacturing ecosystem as a whole. The project has overall indigenous content of 82% which will be increased to 93% by 2026-27.

The induction of the improved AWS into the Indian Army will increase India’s self-reliance in Short Range Missile capability. This project will play a role in boosting the overall economy by avoiding outgo of precious foreign exchange to other countries, increasing employment avenues in India and encouraging Indian MSMEs through components manufacturing. Around 60% of the project cost will be awarded to the private industry, including MSMEs, in maintaining the supply chain of the weapon system, thereby creating large scale of direct and indirect employment.





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