Source: The post is based on an article “The aircraft and the carrier” published in the Business Standard on 5th August 2022.
Syllabus: GS 3 Various Security Forces and their mandate
Relevance: Indian Navy; INS Vikrant
News: The Cochin Shipyard Ltd. handed over India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier or IAC-1, known as Indian Naval Ship (INS) Vikrant to the Indian Navy(IN), which will be commissioned shortly in the IN.
History of Aircraft Carriers in India
Since independence, India has cumulatively operated three aircraft carriers, the original INS Vikrant, the INS Viraat, and INS Vikramaditya. The first two have been decommissioned from the IN.
The second INS Vikrant, which will be commissioned soon, will be the fourth aircraft carrier of India.
INS Vikramaditya is still serving the IN. And after commissioning, INS Vikrant (45,000-tonne carrier) will also be the second serviceable carrier.
First, an aircraft carrier must be able to take enough air wings into battle. However, the only aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya cannot embark on more than about 25 fighters. Therefore, it can be clearly stated that the Indian Naval Ship is left short of air power in crucial battle spaces and missions.
Second, the types of aircraft in a carrier’s air wing and the efficiency with which they can be sustained in battle is the ultimate determinant of a carrier’s worth. However, the Indian Navy has ordered the MiG-29K for INS Vikramaditya and IAC-1. The MiG-29K is a poor choice because it will be unable to absorb the pounding that carrier-based fighters receive while landing when the pilot slams down his fighter at a precise spot on the deck so that it can engage a row of arrestor wires that drag the aircraft to a halt.
What should be done?
Therefore, the Indian Navy is pushing hard for the Indian Aircraft Carrier (IAC) -2 of 65,000-tonne capacity. Further, the Indian Navy is also pushing for a flat deck carrier that is designed and built in India, with technical and tactical consultation from the US Navy. The IAC-02 would be able to embark some 55 fixed-wing fighters, ASW and utility helicopters, and aircraft like the fixed-wing, radome-equipped E2C Hawkeye for extended maritime domain awareness (MDA) missions.
India and the US have constituted a Joint Working Group on aircraft carrier technology cooperation under the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative.
Recently, the Indian Navy has sent out a Request for Information for 26 Multi-role carrier-borne fighters (MRCBF). The marine version of Dassault’s Rafale fighter; and Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet are the two aircraft that meet the requirements. The Super Hornet is the better choice, as is evident from the plethora of disadvantages in buying its rival, the Rafale-Marine.
First, the Indian Navy specified that it requires eight twin-seat and 18 single-seat fighters. The Rafale–Marine does not come in a twin-seat version. Both configurations are available in the Super Hornet
Second, the Super Hornet would ensure high interoperability between the fighters, the aircraft carrier, and a number of other platforms that the Indian military has already bought, or could do so.
Third, If the Indian Navy does not buy the Super Hornet, it may also be denying itself access to MQ-25 tankers from US carriers in the future. Other interoperable platforms also include MH-60R Seahawk helicopters, the P-8I multi-mission maritime aircraft, and the MQ-25 Stingray autonomous, carrier-borne tankers.
Fourth, If the Indian Navy buys the Super Hornet, the US Navy might also link the availability of EMALS/ AAG from General Atomics for the next indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC-2) to the strategic closeness.
Fifth, a Super Hornet sale to India would create a higher degree of interoperability with US naval forces in the Indo-Pacific, as well as with the Quad militaries as both Australia and the US operate Hornets.
Sixth, the acquisition of Super Hornets would allow the Indian Navy continued access to the most capable combat aviation assets in the Indo-Pacific. For example, the US has 11 carriers against only one French and one British carrier.