India, US talk aircraft carrier tech, but key point off menu
NEW DELHI: The bilateral strategic clinch may be getting tighter but the US is unwilling to offer help to India in nuclear propulsion technology for the proposed construction of its largest-ever warship, the 65,000-tonne aircraft carrier INS Vishal.
Even as the joint working group on aircraft carrier technology cooperation (JWGACTC) met in India from February 15 to 18, top defence ministry sources on Friday said the ongoing bilateral discussions did not include “any nuclear propulsion” for INS Vishal.
The second meeting of the JWGACTC, led by Vice admiral G S Pabby (controller warship production and acquisition) and his American counterpart Rear admiral Thomas J Moore (programme executive officer of aircraft carriers), did discuss various aspects of cooperation in technologies connected to aircraft carriers, including EMALS (electromagnetic aircraft launch systems).
But as per the terms of reference for the JWGACTC “only conventional propulsion systems” (gas turbines or diesel-electric systems) are under discussion as of now. “The US has its own export control laws… nuclear propulsion is not on the table,” said an MoD source.
The Manohar Parrikar-led defence acquisitions council had sanctioned an initial Rs 30 crore as seed money for INS Vishal in May 2015.
Since then, India has issued RFI (request for information) for design consultancy to several foreign shipyards.
But it is felt nuclear propulsion will make better sense for greater operational endurance. For instance, the maximum range of India’s 44,500-tonne carrier INS Vikramaditya is around 7,000 nautical miles. Whereas, the range of an American Nimitz-class supercarrier – the US has 10 of them, all over 100,000 tonnes – is unlimited and it can operate for over 20 years without refueling due to nuclear propulsion.
It will take at least 10-12 years to construct INS Vishal, which is critical towards the plan to build military capabilities to counter China’s expanding footprint in the Indian Ocean Region.