For the first time, the navy has confirmed that INS Vishal, its second indigenous aircraft carrier that will be built in the 2020s, will be a conventionally-powered vessel, not a nuclear powered warship, as earlier envisaged.
Indian Navy chief Admiral Sunil Lanba told a press conference on Friday the navy is going in for a “65,000-tonne, two-deck, CATOBAR (catapult take off but arrested landing), conventionally powered” carrier. It would incorporate the latest “EMALS (electro-magnetic aircraft launch system) and AAG (advanced arrester gear)” developed by US firm General Atomics for launching and recovering aircraft.
The chief of naval staff (CNS) also confirmed the navy’s ongoing acquisition of 57 multi-role carrier-borne fighters (MRCBF) was meant for both indigenous aircraft carriers — INS Vikrant, which would be commissioned in end-2020, and INS Vishal which would take another decade.
With the Naval Tejas fighter unsuitable for deployment, the MRCBF procurement is regarded as essential by the navy, said Lanba.
Providing an update on the MRCBF procurement, Lanba said the navy’s Request for Information (RFI) that had been floated earlier this year had received four responses. Sources say these are from Boeing for its F/A-18E/F, Dassault for the Rafale Marine, Saab for its Gripen Maritime and from Russia for an updated MiG-29K, which the navy is already flying.
“We will take the [MRCBF acquisition] process forward. But the middle of next year, we should be able to float the RFP (request for proposals, as the tender is called)”.
The CNS confirmed worrying rumours about underwater damage to INS Chakra (pictured), the nuclear attack submarines that the navy had taken on a 10-year lease from Russia in 2012. “The Chakra has suffered damage to her sonar dome. Two [hull] panels have been dislodged. A Board of Inquiry has been constituted to find out the cause. A joint team of the Indian Navy and the Russian side has assessed the damage. We have ordered the panel at the soonest.”
The chief dismissed reports published last month in a Russian newsmagazine that US Navy officials had been permitted to visit the Chakra during their recent visit to India. “No American person has seen the submarine from nearby,” said Lanba tersely.
In good news for the navy’s depleted submarine fleet, Lanba revealed that Project 75I — which involves building six conventional attack submarines with “air independent propulsion” (AIP) — has made progress. “We have a 30-year plan for a total force level of 24 submarines. Project 75I is the first project being progressed under the Strategic Partner (SP) model. We have floated an RFI for identifying OEMs (original equipment manufacturers). Responses have been received from four OEMs and they are under examination. A committee has been constituted for identifying the Indian strategic partner.
Pressed to identify the four OEMs who have expressed interest in Project 75I, Lanba named German submarine maker, ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, French shipmaker Naval Group (formerly DCNS), Kockums of Sweden and Russian armament supplier, Rosoboronexport.
The navy chief also acknowledged an indigenous project to build six nuclear attack submarines, termed SSNs (the acronym for “sub-surface nuclear”). “It has kicked off and I will leave it at that. It is a classified project. The process has started,” said Lanba.
The navy chief also revealed that India and US had “operationalised” an agreement for “reciprocal logistic support”, termed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), signed in August 2016. “Our ships are taking fuel from US tankers during anti-piracy patrols [near the Horn of Africa]. This began about three months ago,” he said.