Indigenous Aircraft Carrier Vikarnt expected to be operational by 2022

The Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) has offered to develop a new twin-engine deck-based fighter aircraft for the Navy based on the experience of the Naval Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) and it should be ready by 2026, Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh said on Tuesday. He also noted that the Navy expected to have the first Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC-I) Vikarnt operational by 2022.

“The Qualitative Requirements [QR] are being made. They said they should be able to push it out by 2026. If it meets our time and QR requirements, we will definitely take it [fighter aircraft],” he said at the customary annual press conference ahead of the Navy Day.

In the case of the Naval LCA, it recently successfully completed the take-off and landing trials on the Shore Based Test Facility (SBTF) in Goa.

Adm Singh said the current LCA Mk-1 was a technology demonstrator and it would further be put to carrier compatibility tests. And if it worked, whatever lessons they had learnt, the DRDO would plough back onto the twin-engine deck-based fighter that they were offering now.

‘Three IACs Needed’

On the requirement for a third aircraft carrier, Adm Singh said, “As the Navy Chief, I am convinced the country requires three aircraft carriers so that two are operational at any given time.”

He said they were preparing the case for IAC-2 and finalising the requirements. After this, they would go to the government for Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) and it would be followed by design consultancy to decide the exact contours. As of now, the Navy envisaged it to be 65,000 tonnes with Catapult Assisted Take Off But Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) and full electric propulsion.

On the IAC-I, which is under advanced stage of construction in Kochi, Adm Singh said all ship-build issues “are over” and trials would begin now. “We are almost certain that we will take delivery by February-March 2021, he stated and added that aviation trials would take a year after that. “We should have a fully operational carrier by 2022.”

Largest Multilateral Exercise

The Navy is scheduled to host its largest multilateral exercise, MILAN off the coast of Visakhapatnam in March 2020, for which 41 countries have been invited. So far, over 15 countries have confirmed their participation. However, China has not been invited.

Asked as to why China has been left out, Adm Singh said they invited “like-minded” countries with whom they have interacted earlier. “We called people who we think are like-minded and this is our first attempt at such a large multilateral exercise. We have not even done Passage Exercises with the Chinese Navy so far. Others we have had much better interoperability,” he stated.

To a question if the Navy would have an exercise with China given recent improvement in relations, Adm Singh said, “That’s beyond my pay grade.”

Stabilising Influence

On the Indian Navy’s role in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), Adm Singh said, “Our intention is to have a stabilising influence and not a military influence in the region. When we had a dispute on the international maritime boundary line with Bangladesh, we resolved it through the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA). On the other hand, in the South China Sea (SCS), we know what’s happening.” He was referring to the 2016 PCA verdict in favour of Philippines but rejected by China.

Chief of Defence Staff

Asked about his expectations on the soon to be created post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Adm Singh said the views of the Services had been taken care of by the Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC), who then became part of the Implementation Committee. The committee has submitted its report to the government. It should be an empowered CDS, which would be able to make a difference, he said. “I hope the CDS is suitably empowered to carry out all the responsibilities that he is given.”