Thursday, July 23, 2015

Foreign Assistance to Construct INS Vishal

Foreign Assistance to Construct INS Vishal

   After Officially disclosing details about the IAC-II project, Indian navy has forwarded formal request to foreign shipyards to assist an Indian shipyard in constructing India's biggest naval ship code named 'IAC-II'. The construction of the IAC is considered to be extremely demanding and with India aiming to integrate the latest technology it is crucial India receives help from foreign nation.  Indian navy has now formally forwarded request to American ship building company Lockheed Martin, Britain's BAE Systems, DCNS of France and Russian shipyards under Rossoobornexport.

Indian navy is now in  the process of selecting the Indian shipyard which will be heading the project. The biggest naval vessel to be built by an Indian shipyard was IAC-1/INS Vikrant, 40000 tonne aircraft carrier which was completed at Cochin Shipyard Limited (CSL). Just before the start of the IAC project CSL had received major boost to its infrastructural capabilities to accommodate the project. In the fray for the project are Hindustan Shipyard Limited (HSL) and L&T's Hazira plant which was instrumental in the completion of INS Arihant, India first nuclear powered submarine.

The vessel to be built under IAC-II is expected to be longer than IAC-I and is expected to displace around 65000 tonne when completed. IAC-II is also expected to be filled to the brim with the latest available modern technology, Indian navy is actively pitching to equip the aircraft with the latest western technology. With this Indian navy has already inclined towards the support of Lockheed Martin and BEA systems. The vessel will feature a CATBOR deck meaning the aircraft will be launched with a steam or EMALS propelled catapult. 

The project also will face the competition of private industries in the form of L&T which has associated itself closely with the grown of Indian defense programs over the decades. L&T has Kattapulli yard under it's disposal which has received major infrastructural boost. The shipyard has churned out both naval and civilian vessels, concentrating mainly on huge oil tankers which displace around 20000 tonne. The shipyard has also been producing vessels for the Indian coast guard and foreign naval forces. L&T is currently involved in the construction of seven patrol vessels for the Indian Coast guard. The shipyard also is involved in the construction of  54 fast interceptor boats for the Coast guard.

The competition from the Indian shipyard's can be easily refined out, even though nine shipyards have been invited the capabilities of the shipyards for the construction of super carrier is a matter of concern. HSL, CSL and L&T making the cut is confirmed for now and the best bet of the lot would be CSL given the experience and the infrastructure the shipyard. CSL poses readily available infrastructure which will need minimal changes. On the other hand HSL which can be enhanced for handling the work will be shortly have it's hands tied in the construction of the six nuclear powered attack submarines. Even though L&T has been a reliable partner, handing over a product of this scale will be prove to be suicidal for India. Rather L&T can be engaged in building indigenously mastered surface combatants like frigates and destroyers.

India is inclined towards US technology given  the consortium both the nations have formed. The relationship between the largest democracies have reached a new level, during Obama's visit to India the nations agreed to set-up working groups for co-developing carrier technology. With Indian navy now opting to request Lockheed Martin for help the agreement seems to be in the making. Lockheed Martin is a leading naval advisor and project executer for US navy and has been instrumental in providing the USN with state-of-the-art Littrol ships, destroyers and massive landing docks. 

The maker of US super-carrier are infact Northrup Gruman which have been building Nimitz class carriers since their introduction. It is believed India hasn't forwarded the LoR to Northrup, the exact reason behind this is yet to be known. Only BAE systems has publicly acknowledged about receiving the LoR and has confirmed it's participation in the program. Lockheed Martin is yet to announce and acknowledge its role in the program but what is certain is the adoption of US technology on-board this massive vessel. India has set foot in acquiring the latest technology and aims to equip the ship with EMALS and also to power the carrier with nuclear power.

EMALS is a child of US navy which has been successfully developed and is currently being implemented on the 100000 tonne Gerald R Ford-class carrier. The technology has already been tested for launching dead weights from the decks of the carrier, EMALS has also launched multiple aircraft from the land-based  testing model. Implementation of EMALS is a win-win situation for the Indian navy, the system will drastically boost the launch capabilities of the naval aviation. The operational capability of naval aviation is constrained to a great level owing to the STOBAR design of India's current carrier INS Vikramaditya. Induction of EMALS and CATOBAR technology will help the navy launch heavier aircraft with minimal strain to the air-frame.  The operational range will also receive a major boost considering the fuel saved during the entire launch process. 

Apart from US, the other reliable partner India can lookout will be BAE systems. India has imported two of its former aircraft carrier from Britain and hence has a active working group with the company. BAE systems has been instrumental in Britain super carrier, Elizabeth class and has been working relentlessly to equip the carrier with the latest technology. Though Elizabeth class employs a STOL deck little modification will yield in a CATOBAR deck and India's experienced marine engineering team can handle the whole work on the deck. The major problems will be mastering the propulsion and aircraft launch system. BAE has also publicly acknowledged its participation in the program, Lockheed Martin and BAE systems have working groups which are closely working to squeeze in the F-35 for Britain's future carrier. With India opting for western technology the induction of BAE into working group will a major boost.

       DCNS has been a key naval partner for India, the Scorpene's are an example for India's trust on France. India extensively uses France products in its navy, DCNS was the key in France mastering its super carrier dreams. DCNS actively pitched its product for France Super-carrier Charles de Gaulle which is similar to India's IAC-II dreams. DCNS has also been instrumental in France acquiring the Mistal class LHD's. Mistral will be a key competitor in the LHD tender floated by India. DCNS will surely give a run for Lockheed should India consider asking a competitor for the reliable US technology. 

   Russian shipyards have also been invited and have received the LoR, but this can be consider as eyewash method the navy implemented to keep the Russia federation crunching for Indian projects. The first issue with the Russian shipyards would be reliability and cost overruns, this was experienced when India inducted INS Vikramaditya. The cost projection increased exponentially sending the Naval command into a tizzy and time limits were repeatedly increased. Almost every project India went with Russia has had problems blocking the complete execution of the project but  Russia undoubtedly is the most trusted partner of India. Russia has given India a sneak peak into almost all modern technology and has helped India in mastering its ship building capabilities.Weather any Russian shipyard will partner Indian shipyard for the project is a question best left unanswered considering the strain the relationships the countries have suffered. The only logical thought towards this would be India's quest to master "Western technology" through this project.

With the new government stressing for a robust naval force, the IAC project has received some serious review's at the top most level. The Defense ministry has allotted $5 millions for the project and has slashed the time frame by requesting foreign partners to reply in the shortest possible time frame. By the year end we'll be seeing the project taking off and IAC-II taking shape. Indian navy has completed the design phase and is now confused in freezing the propulsion system for the carrier. If everything falls into plae there is no doubt of India operating a super carrier in the next decade.

Editor - Karthik Kakoor

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