The Indian Navy's plan to acquire a third aircraft carrier may not materialise in near future, Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat had hinted.

Replying to a media query on his priority between submarines and another aircraft carrier for the Navy, General Rawat on Monday said: "When we know that there would be two aircraft carriers there, and if the submarine force is dwindling, then our priority should be for submarines."

The Indian Navy currently operates one aircraft carrier, the Soviet-origin INS Vikramaditya. INS Vikrant, the second carrier for the Navy, is being built indigenously and is likely to be inducted in the next two years. The Navy, however, has often aired its doctrinal need to be a three-carrier force — plan to build a third aircraft carrier, a flat-top, has been in discussion for years.

The Indian Navy is looking forward to the Central government to take a decision on a third aircraft carrier, Indian Navy chief Admiral Karambir Singh said on Friday.

"If you see the blueprint of the 1950s, it was built on three aircraft carriers, so that two aircraft carriers are always available when one is under repairs. We are very much looking forward to the government taking a decision on the third aircraft carrier," Singh told reporters.

The Navy believes it should have two aircraft carriers available for deployment at all times, even if one is undergoing re-fit. MoD is moving ahead with the design consultancy phase for the carrier, adding that formal permissions would be sought. A third aircraft carrier has been considered vital by experts in the face of China's relentless naval expansion.

The proposed third carrier, referred to as the Vishal, was to have been significantly larger than the existing Vikramaditya and Vikrant. The Indian Navy had also said the third carrier would have electromagnetic catapults to launch its aircraft.

The Vikramaditya and Vikrant are designed to use 'ski-jumps' to launch their aircraft. Aircraft using ski-jumps have momentum only from their engines and are thus unable to carry heavy fuel and weapon loads. A catapult, on the other hand, gives the aircraft added momentum, enabling it to launch at higher weights and provides an advantage in surface-attack missions or long-range air defence roles. Moreover, catapults enable the launch of specialised aircraft like airborne early-warning systems.

When asked about the appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff, Singh said, that it was a "long desired" development.

Our Bureau