Carriers and their Uses

The new US ambassador to India, Rich Verma, speaking at the Vivekananda Foundation, noted how India and the US now even have a joint working group on carrier technology.

This is not without geopolitical significance. Carriers are the most potent symbol of US conventional military. They allow the US to show the flag and drop the bomb almost any where in the world. They aren’t used as much as they are deployed — and other countries suitably overawed.

India has an ambitious plan for a three carrier task force navy. But it is struggling given its problems with the Gorshkov, that its older vessel is due for retirement and the difficulty in getting money for these huge things.

The indigenous carrier, a small ski jump with a free takeoff system, is a milestone. But it is the most basic carrier technology and has severe limits on the number and weight of the aircraft it can carry.

The partnership with the US, easily the most advanced carrier power of the world, would allow India to take quantum jumps in carrier technology — or at least accelerate its present development programme by having the US fill in technology and design gaps that India faces. Retired Admiral Suresh Mehta notes that technologies like 5 inch guns and so on are also needed by the navy.

Presumably some such speed bumps have arisen as India has asked for US assistance in completing the indigenous carrier. But it should be.the next generation of carriers where India could really jump into the big leagues if its relations with the US prosper.

Why should India bother to gallop rather than walk? It may not be able to anyway if it’s economy doesn’t take off. But otherwise the short answer is that India needs to be the dominant power in the ocean that bares its name. The US has been slowly pulling out of the Indian Ocean as its navy shrinks.The littoral countries will look out for a replacement: who will keep Somali pirates at bay? Who will hunt for the next missing airliner? America clearly wants India to be the one to fill the vacuum they are leaving behind — and a.carrier working group is the best evidence of this.

One future candidate is in the next ocean. The fastest growing navy is China’s and it’s navy has laid out plans for securing China’s sea lanes in the Indian Ocean. It won’t happen in a hurry but I would expect a Chinese carrier to make a foray east of Malacca in the next 15 years. If it’s nuclear powered then it may hang around for a long time.

The point is that carriers don’t necessarily have to fight. Smaller countries make strategic decisions on the image of power. If Chinese.carriers come calling on, say, Tanzania and Indian ones don’t there will be an assumption by that government that the future looks more yellow than brown.

There is already much buzz about one US technology, the electromagnetic aircraft launching system (EMALS). This would indeed be revolutionary: it is a technology not even other NATO countries have and would put India a light-year ahead of China. An EMALS carrier can launch much larger aircraft faster and easier than free takeoff or steam catapult carriers, making it militarily much more powerful. It would also commit India to massive US size carriers and huge costs. That is the sort of.decision New Delhi will have to make in the years to come. The point is that the option is open only because of the resurrection of the Indo-US relationship. At some point, India should also consider asking for help on maritime nuclear power. But that can wait for another day.

Copyright © 2015 the Hindustan Times

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