There is a question about whether the Modi government will approve the construction of the second domestic carrier of the Indian Navy, the INS Vishal?

Despite rumors of disagreements within the Indian government on this issue, Admiral Singh, Chief of Staff of the Indian Navy, said that India should have a third aircraft carrier to deal with China. His reasoning was that under normal conditions, India would have to have one aircraft carrier deployed on the east coast and one on the west for combat duty and deterrence. The third aircraft carrier will be rested for maintenance or global missions. That is also just enough ships to ensure that the Indian Navy always has two aircraft carriers on duty.

The two current aircraft carriers of the Indian Navy, INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant, are both using a ski-jumping take-off mechanism. Therefore, the Indian Navy considers that it is necessary to build a third aircraft carrier, expected to be INS Vishal, using electromagnetic catapults, with a displacement of about 65,000 tons.

INS Vishal
INS Vishal

As early as December 2018, General Sunil Lamba, then Chief of Staff of the Indian Navy announced that the preparations for the aircraft carrier INS Vishal had begun, and construction is expected to begin after three years. If all goes well, INS Vishal will set sail in the early 2030s. But construction of the new aircraft carrier was halted for several reasons; In addition to General Rawat’s strong opposition, India’s severe financial constraints and the COVID-19 pandemic, have made the issue of building a new aircraft carrier even more difficult.

There are three main reasons to oppose the construction of the INS Vishal. The first is cost. The purchase of the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya from Russia, the price has increased from the original 974 million USD to 2.35 billion USD. When equipped with 45 MiG-29K fighters and additional modifications, the total cost of the aircraft carrier increased to nearly 7 billion USD. The cost of Vikrant, which includes 36 aircraft, is expected to be MiG-29K and Ka-31 airborne early warning helicopter, possibly between 10 billion and 11 billion dollars.

Analysts say that the total cost of INS Vishal, expected with 55 F/A-18E/F or Rafale-C, at current prices, will amount to 16-17 billion USD. Therefore, the focus of the debate is that if the Indian Navy spends such huge money on building a new aircraft carrier, so where does the money to go to build corvttes, minesweepers, destroyers and frigates, in addition to naval helicopters, UAVs and many other weapons. The Indian Navy’s budget for 2021-2022 is also very limited.

The Second, critics point out, aircraft carriers are becoming more and more vulnerable to anti-ship ballistic and cruise missiles as well as submarines. Today’s submarines can sink an aircraft carrier without even coming close. Like surface ships and aircraft, submarines can also launch increasingly advanced anti-ship missiles from long range. For example, the range of China’s YJ-12 cruise missile is 400 km, and the range of the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile can reach at least 1,500 km. In fact, more and more countries are building cheaper anti-ship cruise missiles that can be launched from multiple vehicles. Anti-ship missiles are increasing in range, accuracy and quantity, leaving large aircraft carriers always in a passive position.

Third, other weapons and equipment can fulfill combat missions more effectively than aircraft carriers, which General Lavat strongly supports. For example, the Su-30MKI fighter with BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, can better control the Indian Ocean area, to prevent enemy warships operating in the area. Supporters of General Lavat also said that India’s improved Jaguar attack aircraft, with AGM-84L Harpoon missiles and Israel’s active phased array radar will be better than an aircraft carrier in attacking enemy ships.

However, the aircraft carrier is not as vulnerable as the critics have calculated, its fighters can protect the ship from enemy air attacks, and the escorts of the carrier strike group can intercept enemy submarines and incoming missiles. There are also many opinions in favor of the Indian Navy continuing to build a third aircraft carrier, as aircraft carriers are a fundamental element of maritime control. At the same time, the carrier strike group can perform a variety of tasks, such as deterrence, amphibious assault support, maritime surveillance, flagships, and personnel evacuation.

And if the aircraft carrier is the unsuitable weapon, so why do China, the US, the UK, France and other countries continue to develop aircraft carriers now? So for a country that is asserting itself like India, there is no reason to stop developing aircraft carriers. Considering India’s growing geopolitical interests and its role in the Indo-Pacific, should India give up on developing an aircraft carrier? The Indian Navy will say “NO”, and they are confident that Prime Minister Modi will support it, as China is accelerating the development of its aircraft carrier.


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