Three aircraft carriers an ‘unavoidable requirement’, says House panel

Follows Navy’s push for second Indigenous Aircraft Carrier

Having three aircraft carriers will considerably enhance combat capabilities of the Navy, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence said in its recommendation to the government while also suggesting that it is “worthwhile” to prioritise investment for the development of various island territories as provisional aircraft carrier.

The Navy has been pushing for a second Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC-II) based on its force structure centred around three carriers. The country’s first IAC (IAC-I) Vikrant is currently undergoing sea trials and is scheduled to be commissioned in August next year.

“The requirement of third aircraft carrier will be worked out on the Indian Navy’s committed liabilities and future acquisition projects,” the government said in its reply to the Committee.

In the discussion on aircraft carriers, the Committee was apprised that it was desirable to have three aircraft carriers in the Navy, with one carrier operating on either coastline, while the third one is undergoing maintenance and refit, given the lengthy maintenance schedules of carriers.

“In this perspective, the Committee recommend that case for development of a third aircraft carrier be taken up for serious consideration by the Ministry of Defence. The Committee would like to be kept abreast with the development in this regard,” the Committee said in the report tabled in the Parliament on December 8.

Taking into account the long coastline and hostile adversities on both sides of Indian peninsula, an aircraft carrier on both sides of coast is “quintessential” to uphold operational requirements, the Committee said. However, given the long time for repairs and to bridge operational deficiencies thus arising, the Committee noted that three aircraft carriers is an “unavoidable requirement” to meet any eventualities.

The Navy envisages the IAC-II to be displacing 65,000 tonnes and conventionally powered and a steam launched catapult for launching and recovering aircraft and operate both manned and unmanned platforms.

Island territories

The country is enriched with island territories having runways which can be operationalised, the Committee said and noted that some of these islands are strategically and favourably located on both sides of the coast suited for “blocking” and “dominating” the ingress routes provided runways there are made operational.

“The Committee infer that above proposal is worthwhile and priortising investment for development of various island territories as provisional aircraft carrier shall be contemplated by Ministry and decisions on the same shall be furnished to the Committee.”

In response, the government said overall infrastructure development in these territories is being progressed in tandem with the “threat perception and long term strategic vision.” As suggested by the Committee, investment is being prioritised to develop Operational Turn-Around (OTR) ports and extension of existing runways in Andaman and Nicobar islands to support forward deployment of ships and aircraft, the government said.

Further, armed forces are also supporting the NITI Aayog initiative of developing a joint user airfield in Minicoy, as well as the Ministry of Civi Aviation and Airports Authority of India project for development of the Agatti airfield, it stated. “Once completed these assets can be effectively leveraged to dominate the ingress routes, especially from the Malacca Strait and the eight degree off the Lakshadweep,” the government stated.

Earlier this month, Navy Chief Admiral R. Hari Kumar said an aircraft carrier brings certain capabilities. “It’s not about either carrier or submarine, but the right balance between ships, submarines and aircraft,” he noted.

On a similar note, Vice-Chief of Navy Vice Admiral S.N. Ghormade said last month that all platforms like carrier, submarine and maritime patrol aircraft have a definite role and the Navy has budgeted for a second indigenous aircraft carrier in its Maritime Capability Perspective Plan (MCPP). On the need for a IAC-II. “To make a balanced force, all these are required for the capability,” he had stated adding adding the MCPP has factored for all these while taking into account the budgetary allocation and constraints.

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