Building a blue-water navy: India needs another aircraft carrier and Super Hornets to fly off it - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla

The decision to build a second indigenous aircraft carrier, which the navy is pushing for, will be crucial in determining India’s maritime future

by Ajai Shukla

Defence News of India, 5 Aug 22

Last week, when Cochin Shipyard Limited (CSL) handed over the Indian Navy (INS) vessel Vikrant to the Indian Navy, the shipyard was left with a large empty berth where India’s first aircraft carrier, or IAC -1, was under construction. . Now the demanding answers were two questions: First, will there be a second native carrier? And, if so, what would be the size and specifications of the IAC-2? The navy’s answers to these questions will determine India’s naval power for decades to come.

In addressing these questions, the Navy must remember two simple truths: First, an aircraft carrier exists to bring its air wing into battle. And second, the types of aircraft in a carrier’s air wing and how effectively they can be supported in combat are the ultimate determinants of a carrier’s value. By these two measures, the Indian Navy failed. Its carriers have not generated the airpower necessary to justify the enormous expense of an aircraft carrier battle group – which includes the cost of the carrier itself, its air wing and the destroyers, frigates, corvettes and submarines that form a self-sufficient “carrier battle”. group” (CBG) needed to establish “maritime control” over ocean spaces that are hundreds or even thousands of nautical miles from our shores.

Since independence, India has cumulatively operated three aircraft carriers. The second INS Vikrant, which will soon be commissioned, will be the fourth. Two of them, the original INS Vikrant (19,000 tons) and the INS Viraat (28,000 tons) were decommissioned, leaving the Navy with only one carrier in service: the 44,000 ton INS Vikramaditya . When the resurrected INS Vikrant joins the fleet later this month, the 45,000 ton carrier will be the second serviceable carrier. Basically, an aircraft carrier can carry one aircraft per 1,000 tons of displacement. This means that neither the old Vikrant nor the Viraat could take on more than one fighter squadron (16-18 aircraft), as well as the 4-5 helicopters necessary for fleet tasks, such as war anti-submarine (ASW) and airborne early warning and control (AEWC). Even INS Vikramaditya can’t take on more than about 25 fighters, leaving it short of air power in crucial combat spaces and missions.

That’s why the Navy is pushing for the IAC-2 to be a 65,000-ton flat-deck aircraft carrier designed and built in India, with technical and tactical consultation from the U.S. Navy – the world’s masters of naval operations. aircraft carrier. For this, the two countries have formed a “joint working group” on technological cooperation of aircraft carriers under the Defense Technology and Trade initiative. If this aircraft carrier materializes, it will carry some 55 fixed-wing fighters, ASW and utility helicopters and – a first for the Indian Navy – aircraft like the fixed-wing E2C Hawkeye equipped with a radome for extended missions. maritime domain awareness (MDA). . These planes are essential for establishing control of the sea and a flat-deck aircraft carrier with a catapult launch facility is essential to launch them.

The MiG-29K that India ordered for INS Vikramaditya and IAC-1 was a poor choice, being unable to absorb the pounding that carrier-based fighters receive when landing, when the pilot slams his fighter in one spot precise on deck so that it can engage a row of arresting wires which bring the plane to a halt. However, after purchasing 45 MiG-29K/KUB from Russia, naval procurement officials sent a request for information (RFI) for 26 MRCBFs (multi-role fighters on board). Obviously only two aircraft meet the specifications: the marine version of Dassault’s Rafale fighter; and Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, the US Navy’s workhorse that flies from its 11 carriers. The Super Hornet is the better choice, as evidenced by the plethora of downsides to purchasing its rival, the Rafale – Marine.

First of all, the Rafale – Marine is not available in a two-seater version. The Indian Navy, which specified that it needed eight two-seater fighters and 18 single-seaters, would only get this configuration in the Super Hornet. If, on the other hand, the navy purchased 26 Rafale – Marine fighters, the eight two-seaters would be available for training on land, or for combat missions from the mainland, but not for combat missions from the aircraft carrier deck. . The IAF could eventually use the French fighters in combat, but only from land bases. On the other hand, if the Super Hornets were to be procured, they would all perform combat missions from the aircraft carrier, whether single-seat or two-seat, ensuring better use of our limited budget.

Second, flying the Super Hornet would ensure high interoperability between fighters, the aircraft carrier and a number of other platforms that the Indian Army has purchased or may purchase. They include the E/A-18G Growler, a highly specialized electronic warfare (EW) aircraft that accompanies Super Hornets on missions, blinding enemy radars and thus improving survivability – a tandem capability that no other carrier-based fighter in the world no one enjoys. The US government has not yet agreed to supply India with the Growler, but it likely will in the future. But if the Indian Navy did not buy the Super Hornet now, it would effectively shut the door on Growlers forever.

Third, the interoperable platforms also include the MH-60R Seahawk helicopters, the P-8I multi-mission maritime aircraft and the MQ-25 Stingray autonomous tankers. If the Indian Navy does not buy the Super Hornet now, it could also be denied access to MQ-25 tankers from US carriers in the future. The MQ-25, now an onboard tanker, is likely to be modified for additional roles in the future. The Indian Navy has great ambitions at sea in the autonomous domains, including air. The Super Hornet could open the doors to that, should the US ever grant access to the MQ-25, as US-India relations blossom.

Fourth, the US Navy could also tie the availability of General Atomics’ EMALS/AAGs for the next indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC-2) to the strategic proximity that a sale of Super Hornets would bring. Fifth, a sale of Super Hornets to India would create a greater degree of interoperability with US naval forces in the Indo-Pacific, as well as with Quad armies (Australia and the US operate Hornets.

Sixth, the acquisition of Super Hornets would allow the Indian Navy to continue to have access to the most capable combat aviation assets in the Indo-Pacific (the United States has 11 aircraft carriers against only one aircraft carrier French and one British). The US Navy has used aircraft carriers effectively for a century and working with them would help the Indian Navy assimilate best practices at sea. Over 700 Hornets have racked up over a million arrests at sea, against the experience least of France to pilot more than 40 Rafale-Marines from a single aircraft carrier for twenty years. In fact, approval is best provided by the French Navy, which sends its pilots to the United States to learn the art of tail hooking. Finally, working with the United States would help the Defense R&D Organization learn global best practices in carrier operations during the design and development of the “Twin-Engine Deck-Based Fighter” (TEDBF ).