The Indian Navy enshrined a three-carrier requirement in its Maritime Capability Perspective Plan (MCPP) for the period 2012-27, with one carrier available for each seaboard at all times. INS Vishal ("Immense") is the second of two new indigenous Indian Navy carrier designs. The first, INS Vikrant was expected [as of 2012] to be commissioned sometime after 2017 due to ongoing project delays. The Indian Navy has relied on second-hand British or Soviet/Russian origin ships refitted for Indian Navy. So these Indigenous Aircraft Carriers will stand as a huge symbol of national pride. The INS Vishal project under the direction of the Naval Design Bureau, with vessel requirements expected to be finalized by the end of 2012.
Speaking 04 December 2018 on the eve of the Indian Navy Day, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Sunil Lanba stated the form, fit and size of the second Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC-II), Admiral Lanba said, “It will be a 65,000 ton, conventionally powered CATOBAR carrier with indigenous twin-engine fighters developed and produced indigenously by the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) operating from its deck". The Navy had not accepted the single engine Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas because of its shortcomings for deck operations, and apparently the naval Chief was referring to the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA). The indigenous initiative began in 1989, to provide the Indian Navy with "Air Defence Ships" (ADS). Construction was to consist of two 28,000 ton vessels for the launching and recovery of the British BAe Sea Harrier Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) strike aircraft. But economic stringency caused the project to come to naught.
By 1999, improved economic prospects allowed the revival of the indigenous carrier initiative. By this time, the prospective service life of the Sea Harrier inventory was too limited to be the focus of the new effort. So a more flexible aircraft carrier design was provided for under the new "Indigenous Aircraft Carrier" initiative. The class would include the initial 40,000 ton INS Vikrant (not to be confused with the original R11) and her sister, the 65,000 ton INS Vishal. Both would be capable of launching the more powerful Mikoyan MiG-29K Fulcrum navy fighters and navalized helicopters as required. The Vikrant was assigned a STOBAR configuration (Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery) with a "ski jump" ramp was affixed to the bow end of the ship for the required short-take off requirement.
The INS Vishal, however, would be drastically different in scope and function, having a CATOBAR configuration (Catapult-Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery) - a "flat top" deck more in line with American Navy designs. This configuration would support heavier and dimensionally larger mission-minded fixed-wing aircraft such as Airborne Early Warning (AEW) types, and giving the Indian Navy an edge in the South Asian-Pacific Theater - particularly against China and Pakistan.
According to one widely cited account, INS Vishal will be a conventionally-powered aircraft carrier fitted with 4 x General Electric LM2500+ series gas turbine engines delivering to two shafts. Top speed would be 28 knots in ideal conditions, with a range of 7,500 nautical miles. The vessel will be defended by a 4 x 76mm Otobreda guns, surface-to-air missile launchers and a Close-In Weapon System (CIWS) such as the 20mm American "Phalanx". A selex RAN-40L L-band early warning radar (EWR) will be part of the extensive and advanced sensor and processing system. The crew complement, according to this source, is expected to be 1,400 officers, sailors, service personnel, airmen and mechanics.
Dimensions are reported to include a running length of 860 feet with a 200 foot beam and 28 foot draft. But these dimensions are those of the 40,000 ton IAC-1, and are rather too small for a 65,000 ton ship. With a similar displacement, the British Queen Elizabeth CVF has a length of 283m / 920 feet [275-290 meters], a flight deck width of 69-75m / 224-230-240 feet], a beam of 39m / 127 feet, and a draft of 36 ft. Upon inspection, it must be clear that all these specifications are for the 40,000 ton IAC-1 Vikrant, then under construction, rather than the 65,000 ton IAC-2.
The centerpirece of INS Vishal will be the air wing of some 30 or more fixed-wing aircraft and 10 rotary-wing helicopters. The fixed-wing aircraft is expected to be the Russian Mikoyan MiG-29K Fulcrum, or the a navalized form of the land-based lightweight fighter. These would be supplemented or replaced by the indigenous delta-winged HAL Tejas aircraft (navalized). However, the Indian Navy is also interested in heavier aircraft, such as the Sukhoi Su-33, Boeing F/A-18 Hornet or French Dassault Rafale. The Rafale was selected in 2012 by the Indian Air Force to replace its stock of outdated Mikoyan MiG-21 Fishbed fighters. The Grumman E-2 Hawkeye has been mentioned for the fixed-wing AEW role as has a modified AEW version of the Boeing V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor helicopter. Helicopter types expected include the Russian Kamov Ka-31 series (Airborne Early Warning (AEW)) or the British Westland Sea King (Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW)) - both navalized for operations at sea/over water.
With a CATOBAR carrier, the Navy will have to learn an entirely new set of procedures, presumably with a new generation of aircraft, in the next decade. Reports have suggested that the Indian Navy has shown interest in implementing the use of the EMALS system developed for the United States Navy, rather than outfitting the INS Vishal with a conventional steam-powered catapult, but this seems improbable, given the technical complexity of EMALS. Northrop Grumman, which has spent the better part of a decade trying to sell its E-2 Hawkeye to the Indian navy, had offered to help the navy with concept and integration of a steam catapult on the new carrier.
By mid-2012, India had started working on this second indigenous aircraft carrier, even as the construction of the first one had been marred by delay of over two years. The Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC)-II would be the largest ship in terms of the weight and size to have ever been built by the Navy. Asked by Press Trust of India about the specifications of the IAC-2, Navy sources said the work was going on and a number of design options were being explored. Navy sources expressed hope that by the time the IAC-II would be ready, the indigenously-built Naval Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) would also be fully mature for operating on it.
Initial design plans were drawn up in 2001, with funding secured in 2003 and initial work on INS Vishal begining in 2012. In an information session in Parliament, on 16 May 2007, Defence Minister A K Antony stated that induction of a third aircraft carrier [that is, a second unit of this class] is envisioned by 2017. He added that a decision to construct another vessel can be made only after the construction of the first ship has progressed beyond a certain state. This would suggest a keel laying date of post October 2010, which is the tentative launch date of the first ship. In an interview to the Times of India, dated 01 December 2007, the Chief of Naval Staff - Admiral Sureesh Mehta - stated that the second IAC is already on the drawing board and at least three such vessels are planned.
A second unit will also be built, although likely not delivered until around 2018. A third new carrier could be built, but realistic funding and construction dates are too far into the future to determine.
In 2009, the service invited information to support a purchase of aircraft for deck-based operations, which did not specify launch type but had been presumed to be Stobar. Several companies were asked for information: Russia’s MiG and Sukhoi for the MiG-29K and Su-33, respectively; Dassault Aviation with the Rafale (noting that the Rafale could be modified for Stobar operations); Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter; Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet; and two aircraft concepts—Saab’s Sea Gripen and Eurofighter’s Naval Typhoon. The Typhoon can be modified for Catobar operations, but it is unlikely that the economies of such a modification will work out.
By mid-2012, the Naval Design Bureau, which oversees design and implementation of all indigenous warship building efforts, is expected to freeze its requirements by year-end. As of December 2012, it was reported that India was still "in the process of deciding whether its second indigenous aircraft carrier will be equipped with catapults."
As of 2012, the launch date for the vessel was tentatively scheduled for sometime in 2017 with sea trials to be undertaken in 2020, and commissioning in 2022. The commissioning year is probably closer to 2025, due to the ambitious nature of the program. This may result from the focus on finding local solutions without foreign assistance. This pushed existing carriers such as the INS Viraat into service beyond 2014. The INS Vikramaditya - a converted ex-Soviet/Russian Kiev-class carrier - was scheduled to be commissioned in 2013 as an interim solution for the Indian Navy until the arrival of the INS Vikrant and INS Vishal.
The navy chief, Adm. Nirmal Verma, remained circumspect, saying in August 2012: “It is too early to talk about the [second carrier]. There are other priorities right now, particularly the first carrier. Our designers are working toward the second.”
As early as 2013 there was discussion of whether INS Vishal would use Electro-Magnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) to launch aircraft from its deck. EMALS uses a linear motor drive instead of the conventional steam piston drive. With an EMALS system on a flat deck, India hoped to increase the number of aircraft on board the INS Vishal to 50 from 34 and field heavier fighter jets with longer reach as well as airborne early warning aircraft. The US EMALS developed by General Atomics and which is installed on the Ford class carriers. The possibility of sharing this technology was discussed in President Barack Obama's January 2015 visit to New Delhi.
By December 2016 the navy had ruled out deploying indigenously built light combat aircraft Tejas on its aircraft carriers, saying it is “not being able to meet the requirements”. Citing “overweight” as one of the reasons for ruling out Tejas for India’s aircraft carriers, Admiral Sunil Lanba, Chief of Naval Staff, told the Hindustan Times 03 December 2016 the navy is looking at procuring an alternative aircraft.
The Navy is said to be willing to submit a re-prioritized procurement plan to the government to make funds available for the second aircraft carrier. This could mean holding back on other big-ticket purchases in favor of the carrier. "There is a lot of positivity, both from the government side as well as the Navy. I am sure within two-to-three months; we should be able to take it up, second aircraft carrier plan, with the ministry to get the funds. It is a very big-ticket item, it will have to be at the expense of things, we need to take these calls before we can go about doing it," Controller of Warship Production and Acquisition, Vice Admiral DM Deshpande said 19 April 2017.
UK Minister for Defence Procurement Stuart Andrew remained extremely reticent about a possible deal with India on building an aircraft carrier similar to Britain's biggest warship HMS Queen Elizabeth, the Mirror reported 05 May 2019. India had started talks with the UK over its plans to build a copycat version of the British Royal Navy's aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, the Mirror reported. The Indians were said to be mulling the purchase of detailed plans for the 65,000-ton warship and construct a new version, INS Vishal in 2022.
According to the report, an Indian delegation has already visited the birthplace of the HMS Queen Elizabeth – Rosyth Dockyard in Scotland, which is also where the second Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft, HMS Prince of Wales, is now being assembled. "Discussions have begun with India. The design can be modified to meet Indian Navy and local industry requirements", a spokeswoman for BAE Systems, a British aerospace giant that owns the design for UK aircraft carriers along with the French concern Thales Group, said.
If a deal is sealed, the new version of the warship would be built in India, although UK companies could supply many of the parts. In the meantime, the Mirror reached UK Minister for Defence Procurement Stuart Andrew, who declined to provide any details on the alleged talks with India. "We have regular discussions with India on a range of equipment and capability issues. It would be inappropriate to comment further", Andrew told the newspaper.
In the event of a potential deal, the modified version of Britain's largest warship would join India's 45,000-tonne carrier INS Vikramaditya that was purchased from Russia in 2004 after years of negotiations, and the 40,000-tonne INS Vikrant, which was then under construction in the Indian port city of Kochi.
In February 2020 there was speculation that India’s planned Vishal-class indigenous ‘flat-top’ aircraft carrier might be on hold, or the subject of a formal rethink. The Indian government may not be moving towards the Vishal under the Indian Navy’s long-standing doctrinal requirement for a 3-carrier navy. India’s first Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat in his first detailed interview said, “One aircraft carrier will be on the seas next year. You look at when do you really need a third one. If you get a third one, how many years will it take for it to develop? Even if you place the order for 2022 or 2023, it is not coming before 2033. Also, aircraft carrier is not just a carrier, along with it will have to come the aircraft. Where are the aircraft coming from? Along with that we will need the armada protection for that aircraft carrier. It does not happen overnight. It will be bought if it is required. But you cannot predict what the situation will be 10 years from now. We don’t know what will happen.”
As of mid-2021 the plan had yet to secure even an ‘in principle’ approval. The project would require redirecting outlays from the modernisation of Indian Army and the Indian Air Force toward the Navy, which would be intensely resisted. This proposal seemed unlikely to see serious bureaucratic movement before 2022. This would mean that INS Vishal will be ready for commissioning by around 2040, given the normal building time in India. The Indian Navy’s ambition of a three-carrier naval force by the 2030s seemed unlikely to be realised.
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