India’s second indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC-2), the INS Vishal, the second Vikrant-class carrier, is slowly taking shape. Recently, the Indian Navy outlined the specifications of this carrier in a letter of request issued to shipbuilders worldwide. Many of the details, including the tonnage and the physical dimensions of the carrier, are in line with older expectations. For example, the Vishal will displace 65,000 tonnes—25,000 tonnes more than the first indigenous carrier, the INS Vikrant.
The Indian Navy’s Naval Design Bureau clarified other features: the carrier will travel at 30 knots, a hair above the Vikrant, and come in at a length of 300 meters, longer than the 262 meter Vikrant. The Navy’s letter of request also outlines plans for the carrier to field between 30 and 35 fixed-wing combat aircraft and 20 rotary wing aircraft. In many ways, though this carrier will be the second in the indigenous Vikrant-class, it represents a significant upgrade over the first carrier, which was bogged down in delays ahead of its successful undocking in early June 2015. The Vishal and Vikrant, along with the modified Kiev-class Vikramaditya, will form the carrier backbone of India’s Navy, and, with the decommissioning of the INS Viraat, the longest-serving aircraft carrier in the world, the total Indian Navy carrier count will stand at three.
The Navy’s letter of request states that that carrier will be the first in the Indian fleet—and first non-Western carrier—to field a catapult launched but arrest landing (CATOBAR) aircraft launch system. There is a possibility that the CATOBAR system could incorporate General Dynamics’ new electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS) technology, pending a feasibility study with the United States. As I detailed in April, EMALS carries several benefits that could given the Vishal an edge over its regional competitors, notably China’s Liaoning.
As I wrote in The Diplomat earlier this year, U.S.-India cooperation on advanced aircraft carrier technology, including nuclear propulsion and EMALS, could prove to considerably alter the naval balance of power in Asia. Indian carriers could become the first in Asia to field a CATOBAR capability, drastically improving the rate at which carrier-based aircraft could take off in an operational scenario. In addition to operational benefits, EMALS would also reduce the airframe stress of CATOBAR launches for carrier-based aircraft, reducing maintenance costs over time. (For a demonstration of EMALS, check out this video posted from its preliminary testing phase aboard the first Ford-class U.S. carrier.)
According to Indian reports, defense firms from four states received the letter of interest regarding the IAC-2 project. These include Russia’s Rosoboronexport, the United States’ Lockheed Martin, France’s DCNS, and the United Kingdom’s BAE Systems. Lockheed could stand to win the contract given the broader conversation around carrier technology cooperation between the United States and India. Strategic considerations in both New Delhi and Washington may lead to heavy U.S. involvement in the IAC-2 project. Even if EMALS falls through due to feasibility considerations, the issue of nuclear propulsion alone leaves considerable room for cooperation.