Navy’s carrier design blunder and future of SHAR air wing

On Indian Navy again. A knowledgeable source notes that the Vikrant-class carriers, starting with IAC-1, being built at the Hindustan Shipyard in Kochi, have a grievous design flaw that need immediate rectification, failing which they will be disabled from participating effectively in amphibious actions. Specifically, the carrier lacks the ability to support such operations. In contrast the INS Viraat (ex-HMS Hermes) has multiple davits (crane-like machines) that help host four LCVPs (landing vessels) and carry a complement of 750 Special Forces troops with equipment. The new Vikrant-class has no such capability. Other than as escort to provide air cover in expeditionary, or from-the-sea, kind of operations, they lack the multi-role capacity for different kind of seaborne missions. At a time when specialized, single mission, platforms are cost-prohibitive, there’s no option — even at this late date — than to suitably modify at least the follow-up carrier of the same class. Until that happens, the navy will have to consider if somehow keeping the Viraat operational for purely amphibious operations and as anti-submarine warfare ship, which twin tasks were the original remit of the Hermes, makes sense.

Then there’s the matter about the Viraat’s Sea Harrier air wing. Where and how will it be deployed? It perhaps could be shifted to the flagship, INS Vikramaditya. Additionally, the Vikrant-class of ACs could be modified to make it more lethal by having it carry large quantities of Cruise missiles, like the Brahmos or, better still, K-15/Shouryas in containers — an innovation the Russian Navy has already implemented. The question then becomes whether the carrier hull can take it, or will it need considerable strengthening. Cruise missile-arming will make the Indian-made carriers more versatile in an environment where one can expect a much larger, more potent, PLA Navy presence in the Indian Ocean in the years ahead.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in Asian geopolitics, China, China military, Defence Industry, DRDO, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Military Acquisitions, Missiles, Russia, russian military, South Asia, Special Forces, Weapons. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Navy’s carrier design blunder and future of SHAR air wing

  1. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    With the IN going in for Multi Utility Support Vessels, there is no need to risk a high value Carrier so near a shore esp. considering that inexpensive ASBMs are going to become exceedingly effective at wiping out whole flotillas. Pardon me but this absence of LCMs does not seems to be such a big worry.

    However there is one thing that you have mentioned and that may require some more brainstorming. As it is the Brahmos could have been mated to the Tu142s which it seems are being retired. A Carrier jury rigged for Brahmos will endanger both the Carrier and the multiple volleys of Brahmos it can carry. If anything we should have modified/upgraded Tu142s. These aircrafts would have freed up a lot of surface ships for ASW focus.

    Here is a link from a book that that may give you ideas. Notice the long acceleration ranges possible for chemical propellants and also the highest possible acceleration rates possible for the duration of few seconds of launch. With modern chemical propellants a wide range of thrust profiles and safety mechanisms, can be characterized and developed: http://i.imgur.com/VB6dQPa.jpg.

    Thus my counter suggestion would be to give the Viraat to a joint venture of the the IN’s Design Bureau and DRDO. There is a lot of faltu ka halla about CATOBARs vs. EMALS. What we really should be experimenting on is a Chemical Rocket based launch system mated directly to the CATOBAR piston and harness assembly. Unlike Zero Length Launches, which require the rocket to be affixed to the aircraft directly and hence becomes risky the Rocket assembly to catapult would remove that risk while also ensuring the high launch rates with minimal space consumption. In fact this was used in very early experimenting in USS Langley also as ‘Gunpowder Catapults’, before being abandoned. Should our establishment have the itch they may even pay the Americans some consultancy fee for the same. But this thing if attempted would require a test bed and Viraat is the best for the purpose. This may or may not be the panacea but this can ensure a very higher sortie generation rate, on call, even from stand still. The boilers may not even need to fire up and provide help moving the AC against the wind.

  2. satyaki says:

    Bharat Sir,

    Do’nt several of these problems you point out directly or indirectly stem from unnecessary infatuation with the west ? For instance, the K-15/shourya could enhance our anti surface ship capability way beyond the Brahmos if pushed as an Anti-Ship Ballistic missile. But there seems to be a reluctance to do this.

  3. zaine says:

    IAC-1 is being built at Cochin shipyard in Kochi

  4. james baldwin says:

    Idiot or what? The Vikrant is NOT and NEVER was meant to support amphibious operations, it is an AIRCRAFT CARRIER, meant to carry air superiortiy fighters to provide air cover for the fleet, NOT carry out amphibious operations. The IN has a SEPERATE requirement for LHD/LPD for that.

    And there are barely 6 harriers around now, they will be stood down the same time as the Viraat in a few months.

  5. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    Pakis got their Anti-ship Harpoons converted to Land Attack Capabilities, either by themselves, or through Chinese or through Americans. This is how easy it is to lay your hands on missiles and then have them converted for expanded roles. GoI of the day could not even whine about it.

    In such a case having IAC-1 with shore lan ding capability puts at risk the carrier, the aircraft complement on board and a one of a kind crew too. All three of these are going to be too difficult to replace.

    In any case the world has moved on from the days of the 71 operations.

    Lets just say we want to land a force on an un-contested beach that is officially in enemy hands. I would rather send in a bunch of ships that can land at least a brigade sized force with all the peripherals. Forces being launched from say 100-200 km away from the beach. These landing ships will require the cover of say 2 SSKs from all sides out to around 100 kilometers from the mean point of these landing ships. Then off course these SSKs and landing ships and the beach landing party, will require a 24 hour air-cover flying in from 200-300 km further into the ocean (Net-net 400-500 km from the beach). Without mid-air refueling this can be done by IAC-1. With mid-air refueling this can be done from say 800-1000 km away in crunch situations though this will require us to have at least 2 SSG/SSGNs to remain closer towards the beach. The IAC-1 itself will require protection of SSKs. Thus IAC-1 becomes a floating base, kind of like the Americans use their own aircraft carriers. Though considerably more conservatively deployed. IAC-1 in such a case will perhaps never require any kind of LCM/LCVP. I would rather put a Greyhound or two extra NLCAs or Mig29Ks, on board, instead.

    Should we choose to have the LCVP on board IAC-1 then perhaps the only people we can use it against are the Bangladeshis, Thais or Myanmarese people. But that is like pulling along an entirely different way to geopolitics. These countries are not the goal. Goal it seems is to be able to project some measure of force all along the IOR with a great deal of safety for our own assets. The goal is to be able to protect South Asia and South East Asia and East Africa. To contest everything threatened by China and Pakistan in these IOR states, without risking our own high value assets beyond the point of no return.

    So such a scenario requires a Sub to Carrier ratio of 4:1 and you should be able to have 3 beach grind parties max. each landing a brigade level or more force in very short times.

    To my view the subs are the crucial link here. Because as things a force driven towards a beach landing will have no subs for wolf pack duties and threatening moves in the SCS or even within the IOR. It is the Subs that ultimately underwrite the security of the Landing party, the Mistral, the Carrier even as they complete their respective responsibilities towards the beach landing duties from further into the seas. But currently the whole party revolves around the surface fleet. Amrikiyon ne EMAL de diya wah wah, Amrikiyon ne F-35 dena hai wah wah. Everybody just forgets that Amrikiyon ne INS Jalashwa bhi diya tha – kya hua uska?

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