Vishal to be Nuclear Powered?

The United States and India have agreed to form a working group to explore the joint development of India’s nextgeneration aircraft carrier

Issue: 3 / 2015By Rear Admiral Sushil Ramsay (Retd)Photo(s): By Indian Navy

On June 4, 2015, India and the United States signed a new strategically important 10-year defence framework pact which envisaged joint development and manufacture of defence equipment and technology including jet engines, aircraft carrier design and construction.

During the recently concluded visit to India of Ashton Carter, US Defense Secretary, India and the US also finalised two project agreements for high-tech mobile power source and next-generation protective suits for chemical and biological warfare.

The foundation of the recently concluded framework agreement was actually laid during the parleys between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the former’s visit to India as the chief guest at the Republic Day parade on January 26, 2015. The one-on-one discussions between the two had mainly focused on issues ranging from maritime security and joint training.

Towards culmination of the efforts, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and the visiting Defense Secretary Ashton Carter signed the 2015 framework for the India-US Defence Relationship on June 4, 2015. The long-term agreement is the consolidation and the upgrade of the previous framework and successes to guide the bilateral defence and strategic partnership for the next decade.

The salient features of the new framework agreement provides for additional avenues for high level strategic discussions, continued exchanges between the armed forces of both countries, and strengthening of defence capabilities. The framework also encompasses expediting discussions to take forward cooperation on jet engines, aircraft carrier design and construction, and other areas, as also recognises the transformative nature of the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI). The two sides have also agreed to pursue co-development and co-production projects that will offer tangible opportunities for American defence industries to build partnership with the Indian industries including in manufacturing under ‘Make in India’.

India is keeping a watchful eye on the development of EMALS in the US. With nuclear power propulsion system, EMALS will be a natural choice for faster sortie generation rates and efficient launches from the deck of Vishal.

India’s Next-Generation Aircraft Carrier

Viewing from the perspective of further augmenting and consolidating the Maritime Capability Perspective Plans the framework agreement provides for new dimension which can rejuvenate the force development plan for the Indian Navy to the unprecedented heights. The US and India have agreed to form a working group to explore the joint development of India’s next-generation aircraft carrier. While the Indian Navy has already begun design work, wide-ranging cooperation with the US has enormous potential and offers India the opportunity to acquire the most capable warship possible. Setting the preparatory framework in place Ashley J. Tellis, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in an article of April 22, 2015, stated, “Such collaboration would increase the Indian Navy’s combat power and would resonate throughout the Asian continent to India’s strategic advantage. The most valuable contributions are likely to materialise in the fight, possibly in the move, and hopefully in the integrate functions. He further articulated the following tenets which could be used for meaningful collaboration between the two countries:

Bringing Cooperation into Focus

  • The prospect of a major Chinese naval presence in the Indian Ocean transforms India’s hitherto secure rear into a springboard from which coercive power can be brought to bear against the Indian landmass.
  • The principal objective underlying bilateral cooperation should be to ensure that India’s next-generation aircraft carrier—to include its air wing and its capacity for combat operations—will be superior to its Chinese counterparts.
  • Though cooperation on the fight, move and integrate functions is likely to be most indispensable and rewarding, joint development should in principle span all the mission areas involved in carrier design.
  • Above all else, the Indian Navy should not succumb to the temptation to make collaborative development merely an exercise in procuring technology.

The Fight Function

  • Explore the possibility of equipping India’s carrier with the Electro-Magnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS).
  • Offer India access to various advanced aviation systems, such as the US Navy’s E-2C/D Hawkeye for airborne early warning and battle management and the fifth-generation F-35C lightning strike fighter, so as to permit the Indian Navy to secure a combat advantage over its rivals’ air wings.

The Move Function

Consider changes to current US policy to allow for discussions about nuclear propulsion technology in order to, among other things, make the integration of EMALS technology a viable option for India’s next-generation carrier.

The Integrate Function

Support a partnership between the Indian Navy and the US Naval Sea Systems Command, and US private industry as appropriate, to validate the vessel’s engineering and production designs, imbibe best practices from the US experience when constructing the carrier, and coordinate on sea trials prior to commissioning the ship.

Encourage the conclusion of consulting contracts and memoranda of understanding between Indian shipyards and US industry to assist India in incorporating advanced construction techniques when building its new large-deck carriers.

EMALS

Under development for over 25 years and manufactured by General Atomics, EMALS is the first new carrier catapult technology in 60 years. Instead of using a piston forced along by a head of steam, EMALS uses computer-controlled, solid-state electric current to propel an armature down a track. EMALS has been designed to replace the steam-powered launch system that has been the standard on aircraft carriers since the 1950s. EMALS is capable of launching a wide variety of aircraft, is near-silent, and enjoys smoother acceleration and a more consistent launch speed. It also has higher launch energy, is more reliable, mechanically simpler, and is easier to maintain.

EMALS has already been tested in the first phase of ACT testing that ended in 2011 and included 134 manned launches of aircraft, including the F/A-18E Super Hornet, T-45C Goshawk, C-2A Greyhound, E-2D Advanced Hawkeye and F-35C Lightning II. The second phase saw launches of the EA-18G Growler and F/A-18C Hornet. Recently on June 22, 2015, for the first time installed EMALS successfully carried out an unmanned dead weight sled from under construction super aircraft carrier, USS Gerald Ford. The dead weight landed about a hundred metres from the bow of the ship under construction.

Conclusion

Factoring the extensive deliberations, consultations, evaluations, etc. the US and India have now agreed to form a working group to explore the joint development of India’s next-generation aircraft carrier. Such collaboration would increase the IN’s combat power and would resonate throughout the Asian continent to India’s strategic advantage.

Emerging reports suggest that India’s biggest ever warship, the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier II (IAC-II) to be christened as INS Vishal, is likely to be propelled by nuclear energy. Speculations are rife that the home grown IAC-II based on US technology for joint development and construction could be 65,000 tonnes to accommodate an air wing of 50 aircraft. In contrast INS Vikramaditya, which was refurbished, modernised and weighs 45,000 tonnes, carries 34 aircraft on board.

Emerging reports also suggest that the Ministry of Defence has already begun the detailed survey of the capacity and capability of Indian shipyards both in public and private sectors which can be assigned the manufacturing of super aircraft carrier.

A nuclear powered aircraft carrier costs up to three times more than its conventional variant. While the type of fighter jets which will be based on the new carrier is yet to be decided, selection of nuclear power propulsion for 65,000 tonnes carrier offers flexibility for induction of heavier fixed-wing twin-engine aircraft in the air wing. India is keeping a watchful eye on the development of EMALS in the US. With nuclear power propulsion system, EMALS will be a natural choice for faster sortie generation rates and efficient launches from the deck of Vishal. Additional advantage that can accrue by electing EMALS for Vishal that the carrier would be capable of embarking an air wing of 50 heavier fighter jets with longer range as well as airborne early warning aircraft. Vishal could truly emerge as an instrument of power projection and capable of combat operations at extended ranges.