Combination of manned & unmanned systems would mean overall displacement of proposed third aircraft carrier would reduce from 65,000 tons, while also decreasing cost

New Delhi: The Indian Navy is staying firm on its plans for a third aircraft carrier, but discussions are on to tweak design plans to accommodate unmanned aerial vehicles apart from fighter aircraft.

This combination of manned and unmanned systems would mean that the overall displacement of the aircraft carrier would come down from the proposed 65,000 tonnes, while also reducing the cost and time taken to build it.

The development comes as the Navy is working on a modified 15-year Maritime Capability Perspective Plan (MCPP), which will be in tune with the 10-year Integrated Capability Development Plan (ICDP) that the Department of Military Affairs is working on to ensure an integrated approach to procurement.

“We are looking at having a combination of both manned and unmanned aircraft on the third aircraft carrier,” a source in the defence and security establishment said.

Asked if the unmanned aircraft will be for surveillance only, the source said, “They will be of different kinds. There will be a mix of both surveillance and attack capability.”

A second source spoke about the reduction in weight and cost of the aircraft carrier.

“The entire design of an aircraft carrier is based on the kind of aircraft it will carry and the number of them. With a mix of both manned and unmanned assets, the weight will come down from the proposed 65,000 tons. With this, the cost will also come down,” the second source said.

The sources said this would be the first aircraft carrier to cater to both fighter aircraft and drones.

‘Navy has budgeted for 3rd aircraft carrier’

There has been a debate in the defence establishment on whether India needs a third aircraft carrier.

Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Bipin Rawat has, in the past, questioned the viability of the third aircraft carrier, while insisting that the focus should be on submarines.

“All these (third aircraft carrier, new submarines, maritime patrol aircraft) have a definite role. To make a balanced force, all these are required for the capability,” the Navy’s Vice Chief, Vice Admiral Satish Namdeo Ghormade, said in response to a question during a briefing on the upcoming commission of the first of the Visakhapatnam class of guided missile destroyers and the fourth Scorpene Submarine.

He added that the Navy’s MCPP has factored in the aircraft carrier, submarines and the maritime patrol aircraft.

To allay any fears of budget constraints, he said that the MCPP is based on the predicted growth of budget, and how much funding is available. “In our budget, we have catered for all three,” he said.

Ghormade underlined that the maritime environment is a complex one and it only increases with more players involved.

“We live in a time when global and regional balances of power are shifting rapidly and the region of most rapid change is undoubtedly the Indian Ocean Region,” he said. “Continuous efforts are, therefore, on ensuring that our force levels grow progressively to enhance the capability of the Indian Navy to meet the emerging challenges.”