Given the overall economic situation in the country and spike in tension with China in Ladakh, there has been concern in recent months that the Indian Navy’s plan for a third aircraft carrier may not materialise. The Indian Navy currently has one active aircraft carrier, the INS Vikramaditya, which was purchased from Russia. An indigenous carrier, to be named the Vikrant, is due to begin sea trials by the end of this year.
The proposal for a third aircraft carrier, that would displace over 60,000 tonnes and have advanced catapults to launch heavier aircraft, was first mooted over a decade ago. The proposed vessel has been informally referred to as the ‘Vishal’.
In February, Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat said the “priority” of defence planners would be submarines as the number of submarines was dwindling and the Navy would have two aircraft carriers in the next few years.
M. Matheswaran, a noted defence analyst who was a former air marshal in the Indian Air Force, has warned a third aircraft carrier is “a vital necessity for the Indian Navy, given the current tensions with China”.
Matheswaran wrote an article on the Indian Navy’s carrier plans that was published on Tuesday in The Interpreter, a publication of the Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank.
Matheswaran conceded the high cost of aircraft carriers was a major factor in lack of enthusiasm for such ships as other defence projects were also in need of funds. Matheswaran referred to the massive spike in cost of modernising the Vikramaditya, which saw its original price rise from $974 million to $2.35 billion. “Together with 45 MiG-29K aircraft and additional modifications, the overall price now sits somewhere between $6 billion and $7 billion,” Matheswaran wrote in The Interpreter.
Matheswaran noted the cost of the Vikrant, once fully equipped with aircraft, would likely be “$10–11 billion”.