August 20, 2012
Credit: Credit: Indian Defense Ministry Concept
Asia-Pacific Staff New Delhi
The Indian navy is likely to call an end to its tryst with ski-jump aircraft carriers, deciding that its next big vessel will be a flat-top with a catapult-launch system.
While India's first home-built carrier, known as the Vikrant, is to be a 44,000-ton short-takeoff-but-arrested-recovery (Stobar) carrier, the second ship—tentatively titled Vishal (“Immense”)—is seen as a 65,000-ton flat-top with a steam-catapult system. The Naval Design Bureau, which oversees design and implementation of all indigenous warship building efforts, is expected to freeze its requirements by year-end.
A commodore with the Naval Design Bureau says, “A decision has been taken to move away from conventional Stobar and short-takeoff-or-vertical-landing (Stovl) operations.”
The navy's Sea Harrier fleet is closing out its service. The Indian carrier Vikramaditya—the former Russian carrier Admiral Gorshkov—and first indigenous carrier (Vikrant) will be transition vessels to Stobar operations. The next logical step is catapult-assisted takeoff-and-barrier-arrested recovery (Catobar), “which brings with it immense advantages in the mix of assets we can deploy on deck,” says the commodore.
The navy has been known to want to deploy heavier fighters from a carrier. Still, the freeze on a flat-top catapult-launch design also dramatically changes the navy's future fighter requirement. 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.
A catapult carrier could narrow the field to a competition involving a modified Su-33, the F/A-18, F-35C and Rafale. The Rafale—currently in final negotiations for the Indian air force's largest-ever fighter purchase, worth around $12 billion for 126 aircraft—has already pushed its case with the navy, underlining type commonality.