China’s Aircraft Carrier construction craze vs India’s decades of experience in Carrier Operation

With the decommissioning of INS Viraat — world’s oldest aircraft carrier — on Monday, India is left with a single carrier, the INS Vikramaditya. Now it is steadily pacing towards having a second carrier, an indigenous one, which will be called the Vikrant like the first ever Indian carrier.

India has been operating aircraft carriers for decades, starting from its first one, INS Vikrant, then to Viraat and now Vikramaditya. In the future it is looking at operating the new Vikrant, most likely in Visakhapatnam for its proximity to China.

“The threat scenario during the era of Viraat was different as compared to now, when there is growing Chinese naval activity in areas surrounding India. And if a conflict breaks out, India needs to be better prepared in regard to the protection of its carriers,” explained an expert.

China, on the other hand, has built ships and submarines to protect its first aircraft carrier, Liaoning. Although being a formidable neighbour, China may not fall in comparison with decades of experience in carrier operations which India has, but the former is building itself as a naval power.

In September 2012, China had commissioned the Liaoning — procured from Ukraine and then reworked upon. In November, 2016, it was reported that the carrier was combat ready. It is now quickly building its second one, Type-001A. And reports are emerging of its third carrier, Type 002, being built.

China has been showing its military prowess, including conducting military drills, with Liaoning, in the disputed South China Sea. It had recently passed through the Strait of Taiwan, causing the country to reach a state of operational readiness. And all this is happening in India’s neighbourhood.

With progress of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), starting from Gwadar Port, and China having provided naval warships to Pakistan for the site’s protection, India needs to start acting fast to better secure its areas with the growing military presence of China around it.

While experts said India has the experience in operating the air wings from carriers, what is badly needed for the Vikramaditya and future carriers is protection and support against submarines. This can be done in the form of a carrier battle group. “This means more ships and anti-submarine helicopters,” said a Naval expert.

“An aircraft carrier never sails alone. It is a high value unit, so one needs other ships and anti-submarine helicopters to protect it,” added the expert.

A problem point for India is it currently has a minimal number of anti-submarine helicopters, meant to provide close support to the carrier and its group. “The issue is not that we don’t know how to protect our carriers, the issue is regarding such helicopters. To be combat-worthy, merely having an aircraft carrier and an air wing is not enough, we need a support system,” explained another expert.

The need for this system becomes increasingly important keeping in view China’s recent naval exercises in the Indian Ocean, which India considers as its backyard. The Indian Navy has also sighted Chinese nuclear submarines in the region. Navy Chief Admiral Sunil.

Lanba had stated in December last year that a Chinese nuclear submarine had done a port call in Karachi. Soon thereafter satellite images of Chinese nuclear submarines docking in Karachi were made public on Twitter.

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INDIA:
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INS Vikramaditya:

1. The ship’s journey as a formidable fighting machine began on December 26, 1978, in the Black Sea Shipyard in Nikolayev, Ukraine, when its keel was laid as the fourth Kiev class aircraft carrying cruiser, ‘Baku’.

2. The ship was capable of operating Yakolev YAK-38 Forger VTOL aircraft, similar to the British Sea Harriers. It also had Kamov helicopters for anti-submarine, surface reconnaissance and search and rescue purposes.

3. The ship was offered to the Indian Navy in 1995.

4. In July 1999, the ship was towed to Severodvinsk (Russia) for repair and refit for re-commissioning in the Indian Navy as INS Vikramaditya.

5. The ship was gifted to India for free and the latter would only pay for its repair and refurbishment. It was commissioned into the Indian Navy in 2013.

6. Fourth generation fighter aircraft, the MiG 29K and twin-seater MiG 29 KUB, operate from Vikramaditya. But the carrier is a STOBAR (Short Take Off But Arrested Recovery) one, meaning aircraft launch under their own power with the assistance of a “ski-jump” and land with the help of an “arrestor gear”. This indicates that aircraft may be required to limit their weapons and fuel to be able to launch.

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7. But the MiG 29K/KUB is riddled with problems relating to its airframe, engine and fly-by-wire system, according to a report tabled in Parliament in July last year by India’s national auditor, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG). “Aircraft were being technically accepted despite having discrepancies,” it said.

8. The service life of the aircraft is 6000 hours and the issues it is facing would further reduce its operational life, said CAG.

9. But the ship has a host of arsenal for modern warfare. It can carry a maximum of 34 aircraft- MiG 29K (24 in total), Kamov KM-31, Kamov Ka-28, Sea King, ALH-Dhruv and Chetak. The Navy also said the MiG-29K will provide it with better combat capabilities over the Sea Harriers. (sea harriers pic, Dhruv ALH)

10. The carrier is seen as a game changer for India and a force to reckon with in the Indian Ocean Region.
11. But there is a shortage of Multi-Role Helicopters with anti-submarine capabilities, which protect ships and carriers from enemy submarines. The Navy requires 147 such helicopters. It also wants 123 more such choppers.

12. The ship is fitted with Long Range Air Surveillance Radars, creating a surveillance bubble around the ship for detecting threats up to 500 kms, explained the Navy.

Vikrant:
1. This will be India’s first indigenous aircraft c ..

2. The IAC is being constructed at the Cochin Shipyard Limited.

3. The carrier would have a maximum speed of 28 knots, according to a CAG 2016 report on the Indian Navy and the Indian Coast Guard.

4. According to the Ministry’s 2002 proposal, the trials/delivery of the IAC was to be completed in 2010, but until 2013, only its ‘launching’, meaning lowering the ship into water for the first time on completion of its outer hull and part of machinery, took place.

5. It is estimated that the IAC’s trials or delivery would be in 2023 as against December 2018.

6. The Defence Ministry’s proposal to the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) in 2002 brought out that 30 aircraft of various types- 12 MiG29K, eight Advanced Light Helicopters, two Kamov-31 and eight Sea Harriers/Light Combat Aircraft were envisaged to operate from the IAC.

7. Both the MiG-29K and Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) were to operate from VIkramaditya and Vikrant. But Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba in December last year said the LCA is not up to the mark yet. The Navy said the LCA is “too heavy” and cannot take off with full fuel and weapons load. Due to which they are searching for another fighter aircraft for carrier borne operations within the next five years.

8. But the LCA naval program will stay according to Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. At India’s biggest aerospace show, Aero India, held in Bangalore in February this year, he had said “the Navy wants a twin engine and for that the Naval LCA has to be tested”.

9. In January this year, the Navy had issued a Request for Information (RFI) to procure 57 Multi-Role Carrier Borne Fighters for its aircraft carriers. The requirements of the aircraft are it should be capable to fly during day and night, and to be used for air defence and reconnaissance missions.

10. Dassault Aviation’s Rafale M, Saab’s Gripen Maritime fighter and Boeing’s F-18 Super Hornet are likely to compete for the project.

11. But India is getting all the help it can on aircraft carriers. India and the US have have formed a Joint Working Group on Aircraft Carrier Technology Co-operation. The US has also offered its state of the art electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS) technology and advanced arresting gear for India’s second indigenous carrier, IAC-2 or Vishal.

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CHINA:
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Liaoning:

1. This is China’s first and only aircraft carrier. It was made after reworking on a older Russian model, the Varyag, which was being redone by Ukraine but abandoned due to lack of funds. The Chinese purchased the ship from Ukraine for $20 million in 1998.

2. It was commissioned into the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) in September, 2012, as CV-16, the Liaoning and conducted her first aircraft landing and take-off qualification trials in Novermber of the same year.

3. PLAN developed a naval version of its indigenous aircraft, J 11B, called the J-15 for this carrier. The J-15 is an improved version of the fourth generation Russian Su-33, which operates from the Russian aircraft carrier, Kuznetsov, according to reports.

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4. In 2012, the J-15 successfully completed takeoffs and landings on the Liaoning.

5. The J-15 could affect the regional military balance, as it likely exceeds the aerodynamic capabilities of all aircraft, except the US F-22 Raptors. The Lockheed Martin F-22 is a fifth generation stealth aircraft being used by the US Air Force.

6. The J-15’s combat radius could extend as far as 700 km from the carrier. A nuclear submarine to fall in range to launch an anti-ship missile would require hours, but a J-15 can cover that distance in a few minutes.

7. The Chinese also plan to use a new, fifth generation fighter jet, J-31 or FC-31, which is very similar to the US 5th generation fighter, F-35, according to reports. The J-31 will be a stealth aircraft. But such aircraft with China will be a significant shift in the balance of power.

8. China is flexing its muscles in the disputed South China Sea. It has conducted military drills with the Liaoning and other naval warships. In January this year, it carried out takeoff and landings, involving the J-15s, according to PTI.

9. The Liaoning is also larger than the Vikramaditya, with a deck 20 metres longer and weighing about 15,000 tons more. But the Liaoning is smaller than the US Nimitz-class carrier USS Ronald Reagan, stationed with the US Seventh Fleet in Japan. Its steam turbine power plant limits its top speed, giving it a typical speed of 20 knots.

10. The Liaoning’s air wing consists of 24 J-15 fighters, larger in number than the Japanese anti-submarine helicopter destroyer, Izumo, but lesser than Ronald Reagan’s 55 fixed wing aircraft, according to a US based think tank, Centre for Strategic & International Studies .

11. The Liaoning’s air wing also suffers from inadequate personnel training and experience as compared to other countries. Its pilots began training on the ship in November 2012 and in 2015 the PLAN certified its first wing of J-15 pilots. It also lacks experience in carrier operations, as the Liaoning was only commissioned in the Chinese Navy in 2012. US and India, on the other hand, have been operating aircraft carriers for decades.

12. The physical limitations of the Liaoning indicate that it will be best suited for regional missions. As the PLAN develops its capabilities, future missions could take it further away from China’s periphery, estimates CSIS.

Type 001A:

1. China’s first domestically built aircraft carrier, Type 001A, is near completion in Dalian. It will begin service in 2020, as reported by China’s state media Global Times.

2. The combat capabilities and technologies of the Type 001A will be much more advanced than the Liaoning.

3. The new carrier will take two years to be outfitted with the required weapons and equipment, said the Chinese media.

4. Most of the construction and design work has been completed. Its hull has already been assembled.

5. On December 31, 2015, the Chinese defence ministry announced the construction of the 001A, according to Global Times.

6. The carrier with a displacement of 50,000 tons will have J-15 fighters and other aircraft.

7. The design and construction of this carrier is based on experience and training from the Liaoning.

8. The 001A is a STOBAR based carrier, meaning it will use a “ski jump” to launch aircraft like the Liaoning, unlike the US carriers which use aircraft catapult.

Type 002:

1. China is also developing a third aircraft carrier in Shanghai, as per Global Times.

2. This one will be different compared to its predecessors. In the Type 002, China will not adopt the STOBAR, including the ski-jump, equipped in Vikramaditya, Liaoning and Type 001A. Instead, the 002 will be entirely different and be similar to US aircrafts, rather than a Russian one.

3. China is looking into the catapult technology used in CATOBAR (Catapult Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery) type carriers. It is examining steam catapults, according to Global Times. This will ensure heavier aircraft to be launched from the carrier. More advanced aircraft carriers such as the soon to be commissioned USS Gerald Ford of the US Navy are testing the state of the art, Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System, more advanced than steam catapults.

4. The Type 002 is estimated to be China’s latest weaponry to counterbalance US naval power in the Asia-Pacific.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source:- ET

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