The size and specifications of the Indian Navy's future aircraft carrier have been officially acknowledged. The navy has written to at least four major global shipbuilders, asking for proposals to help in designing a 65,000 tonne carrier that would be about 300 metres long.
The letter of request, issued by the Indian Navy on Wednesday, specifies the carrier should be capable of speeds greater than 30 knots (56 km per hour). However, it is silent on whether it prefers nuclear propulsion, or conventional diesel or gas turbines.
The navy's letter states the carrier will embark 30-35 fixed wing combat aircraft, and about 20 rotary wing aircraft (helicopters). It would have a catapult to launch fixed wing aircraft, which would make the carrier a "catapult launched but arrested landing", or CATOBAR vessel. For India's naval aviators, this would involve a major change from a long tradition of getting airborne from a "ski-jump" at the end of the flight deck.
While not mandating an "electromagnetic aircraft launch system" (EMALS), the navy has specifically mentioned it as an option. The United States Navy's latest carrier, the 100,000-tonne USS Gerald R Ford, which will be commissioned next year, is the world's only current carrier featuring EMALS.
There was an agreement between the USA and India for the USA to cooperate with India on their aircraft carriers and for the USA to allow access to some carrier technology.
The navy's letter has gone out to US company, Lockheed Martin; UK company, BAE Systems, French shipbuilder, DCNS, and Rosoboronexport, the Russian export umbrella agency.
The letter pertains to the vessel that is commonly referred to as the "indigenous aircraft carrier number 2", or IAC-2. Currently, Cochin Shipyard Ltd (CSL) is building IAC-1, a 40,000-tonne carrier named INS Vikrant, which is scheduled to be commissioned in 2018.
INS Viraat will supplement INS Vikramaditya, the 45,000-tonne carrier bought from Russia, which was formerly named the Gorshkov. Another, older carrier, INS Viraat, is expected to be retired by the end of this decade.
Experts have begun evaluating the implications of the navy's specifications. It is pointed out that asking for 25-30 fighters and 20 helicopters on a 65,000 tonne, 300-metre-long carrier would limit the size of the aircraft on the ship. If heavy fighters are to be a part of the ship's complement, it would need to be bigger; if the MiG-29K is retained, it would need a foldable nose to occupy less hangar space.
It is also pointed out that specifying a speed in excess of 30 knots eliminates certain forms of propulsion, notably an all-electric drive, which is environment friendly and economical.