WITH INS VIKRANT joining the fleet, most likely on the west coast, the Indian Navy would again have two aircraft carriers, just as it did when it brought together the old Vikrant and Viraat in the eighties. However, with a growing economy and rising aspirations, the stakes of maritime power are also rising, leading many in maritime circles to say that India would need a third carrier to undertake the tasks expected of its Marine. Meanwhile, there is also a growing school of thought that believes India should invest in more submarines, as well as land and island installations.
In a candid interview, Vice Admiral MA Hampiholi, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief Navy Southern Command, himself an expert in submarine warfare, discusses these and other questions regarding the increasing responsibilities of the Navy. . Excerpts:
Q/ India’s long wait for an indigenous aircraft carrier is over. How will Vikrant strengthen India’s position in the Indian Ocean region and its efforts for a deep-sea navy?
A/ The overall air power that an aircraft carrier brings to the operational area is not limited to the formidable capabilities that the fighter aircraft can offer. It also includes the capabilities of on-board helicopters and the weapon set of escort and support ships that sail with the carrier as part of the Carrier Battle Group.
The Indian Navy has been operating aircraft carriers since 1961. INS Vikrant is India’s first locally built aircraft carrier. With Vikrant’s enthronement and subsequent proof of his combat capability, he will join INS Vikramaditya as one of the most valuable assets of the Indian Navy. Vikrant’s ability to project tactical airpower over long distances will strengthen India’s position as a preferred security partner and first responder in the Indian Ocean region. It will also be a key enabler in the country’s vision of security and growth for all in the region, a rules-based international order, and a free and open Indian Ocean region.
Q/ What deck-based fighter aircraft has the Navy pre-selected for Vikrant? How would you compare Vikrant with some of the best aircraft carriers in the world, like the US Nimitz class or China’s Liaoning?
A/ Flight testing and combat capability of Vikrant is initially expected to be proven with the Navy’s Tejas and MiG-29K light fighter aircraft. Vikrant is also capable of operating modern fighter jets like the French Rafale M and American F-16s with modifications. Each aircraft carrier is a military tool with enormous operational capabilities and can be classified according to factors such as propulsion machinery, type of fighter launch and recovery, number of aircraft it can carry, output generation rate, to name a few. Vikrant has modern sensors and equipment, which complemented its long-range maritime air power projection capabilities.
Q/ How many planes can Vikrant carry? What are its distinct advantages?
A/ The design of the ship provides for a carrying capacity of 30 aircraft. This includes different variants of fighters and helicopters. However, the actual numbers carried will depend on the type of mission and operational scenario.
Q/ What is the difference between the Vikrant and the Vikramaditya, which is considered the most powerful warship in the Indian Navy?
A/ Vikrant is locally designed by the Indian Navy’s Naval Design Bureau and built by Cochin Shipyard Ltd, while Vikramaditya is a Russian-modified kyiv-class aircraft carrier. In addition to minor differences in dimensions, differences in the type of propulsion, the set of weapons and sensors, the length of the take-off and landing runways and the position of the service aircraft elevators make Vikrant a flat -powerful shape. These two aircraft carriers will play an equally important role as warships for the Indian Navy.
Q/ Would Vikrant transport female sailors? What are the female-friendly facilities on Vikrant?
A/ With the implementation of the Agnipath program for the three services, the Indian Navy has taken the lead in integrating women as sailors. They are expected to represent about 20% of the induction strength. This implies that female sailors will also be deployed aboard Vikrant in the near future. Currently, more than 25 female officers serve on board warships. Vikrant has a modern warship design and many female-friendly facilities have been incorporated into the living areas, common areas and medical services.
Q/ The Chinese navy has increased its presence in the Indian Ocean region and appears to be a threat. How does the Indian Navy monitor Chinese naval and maritime assets deployed in the region?
A/ The Navy is fully aware of the security implications of the increased presence of Chinese ships, submarines and research vessels in the Indian Ocean region, and maintains constant and close monitoring of these developments. The Navy maintains maritime domain awareness, as well as an appropriate degree of readiness to deal with any emerging situation. Navy ships and aircraft are regularly deployed to maintain continuous and effective surveillance to monitor extra-regional/non-littoral vessels and submarines in our area of operations. In addition, patrols by surface and air means and electronic surveillance of maritime areas are carried out using a chain of coastal offshore radars – the NAIS chain and the LRIT system.
Q/ Do you see the need to have a second indigenous aircraft carrier soon?
A/ There is no doubt that an aircraft carrier is at the heart of the Navy’s concept of operations, and the Navy would need three aircraft carriers to safeguard national maritime interests in our areas of interest in the context of the geopolitical evolution of the Indian Ocean region. The carrier battle groups are undoubtedly the source of power projection and offer freedom of maneuver in the vast field of operations of interest. The three aircraft carriers would arm the Navy with the necessary teeth to deter our potential adversaries from any misadventure, as well as to establish a credible deterrent in our area of operations. The Indian Navy’s Maritime Capabilities Perspective Plan therefore envisages the induction of three carriers to ensure the development of the capability to operate two carrier battle groups at any one time, and with the third carrier in maintenance.