With India’s first indigenous carrier (IAC-1) now under construction at the Cochin shipyard, there is speculation surrounding future aircraft carriers, and Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Nirmal Verma told AIN that the design of the second carrier has not been decided. IAC-1 has a ski jump, but it has not been decided yet whether a planned second indigenous carrier (IAC-2) would be similarly equipped with a ski jump for short-takeoff but arrested recovery (Stobar) operations. Russia has proposed joint development of an advanced carrier design to India.
“[We] do not rule out the IAC-2 catapult or the F-35 [naval version] in the future…it will be years before we decide,” Verma said. “Some people are jumping to conclusions [on the design]. The training, maintenance and aircraft commonality issues we will face with the catapult design are entirely different. We have other priorities…We have to examine what would be a reasonable time-frame for introduction,” he added.
Should India opt for the catapult design, it would need Western aircraft. The navy has already shown interest in Northrop Grumman E-2D Hawkeye AEW aircraft. Lockheed Martin, too, has proposed the naval version of the F-35 to the Indian navy.
The 260-meter-long IAC-1 is expected to carry 12 MiG-29Ks, eight light combat aircraft (LCA) and 10 anti-submarine and reconnaissance helicopters on its 2.5-acre flight deck and hangars. However, in the face of major technological challenges, the indigenously built naval version of the LCA made its maiden flight this year. But basic design changes are needed, such as a strengthened airframe and landing gear, arrester hook, improved engine, enhanced aerodynamic performance and incorporation of special metals/materials. “There is much work to be done. It will take time before it reaches the AOC,” cautioned Verma.
Meanwhile, 16 MiG-29K/KUBs will initially equip the Russian-built INS Vikramaditya (ex-Gorshkov) and the IAC-1. With 29 more ordered, deliveries of the MiGs will start at the end of this year. A ski-jump training facility is being prepared at the navy’s airbase in Goa, said Verma.
Italy-based Fincantieri’s Naval Vessel Business Unit is said to have been involved in the concept, design and implementation plans of IAC-1. It is still not clear if the Indian navy will accept Russia’s offer of cooperation on the design of IAC-2, but geo-political considerations are a factor. Verma declined to comment on whether IAC-2 would be nuclear powered.