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India Weighing Nuclear Powered Carrier

An artist's conception of INS Vikrant, India's first domestically-built carrier India is weighing constructing its second carrier with nuclear power. Indian Navy Image

An artist’s conception of INS Vikrant, India’s first domestically-built carrier India is weighing constructing its second carrier with nuclear power. Indian Navy Image

India is considering powering its second domestically built aircraft carrier with a nuclear propulsion plant, according to a Tuesday report by news agency Press Trust of India.

The design of the carrier is ongoing and nuclear power is still an option for the carrier, said Director General of Naval Design Bureau, Rear Admiral Atul Saxena, in response to questions from reporters.

India’s first domestically built carrier — the 40,000-ton INS Vikrant currently under construction in Cochin Shipyard in Southern India — will be powered by four General Electric LM-2500 gas turbines.

The second carrier Vishal is planned to be much larger — up to 65,000-tons — and is still in the conceptual design process, Saxena said.

Last year Indian officials said the two major decisions for the carrier were its power supply and launching and recovery methods for the planned Vishnal.

Though more technically complicated in design and construction stages, a nuclear powered carrier provides greater flexibility to commanders once in operation, Eric Wertheim, author of the Naval Institute’s Combat Fleets of the World, told USNI News on Wednesday.

“Nuclear power frees up space,” he said.
“You don’t have to store fuel for your ship onboard.”

Nuclear carriers have more room for ammunition and fuel for aircraft on the ship and shedding the requirement for refueling the ship simplify the logistics of resupplying the carrier at sea.

However, it’s unclear if India can overcome the technical requirements to fielding a nuclear carrier.

“It’s a big if. There’s a lot of challenges to overcome,” Wertheim said.
“I’m skeptical how soon India would be able to master that ability.”

India’s new leadership is bullish on the country’s carrier ambitions, writ large.

In July, India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi backed funding the $3.18 billion needed to complete INS Vikrant, following a visit to India’s Russian built carrier, INS Vikramaditya.

Vikrant supposed to be completed in 2013 but delays in construction have pushed the operational date to 2018.

Eventually, India wants to operate three carrier battle groups (CBG).

Part of India’s push to create a carrier force widely seen as a hedge against Chinese expansion and the growing capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).

China is currently working on its own domestic carrier program with a reported goal of four ships.

The Indian Navy currently operates two originally foreign carriers — the Russian built INS Vikramaditya and the 50 year-old carrier INS Viraat — the former British carrier Hermes.

  • drjon4u2

    Obviously, India desires that her ships be able to move out of The Indian Ocean with fewer support vessels. If India desires a counter to China, I would hope that they are more thoughtful about the Chinese surface to surface missile defense system than we have been, as we seem to have no sense as to how vulnerable our carriers are in the South China Sea to that same threat. Otherwise, these ships are floating force defensive projection platforms.

  • Secundius

    I hope for India’s sake, “That Build It Bigger.” Goes to there HEADS!!!

    • IAF101

      The problem with “build it bigger” is that its harder to port and harder to repair. Not to mention harder to defend. Without a system like the Aegis the Indians will be essentially be rolling out big targets for Chinese cruise missiles fired from submarines.

  • IAF101

    India can adopt the same “anti-access and area denial” strategies the Chinese have adopted to keep the Chinese out of the Indian Ocean. A good way to compound that would be by basing anti-access and area denial through carriers.

    The big concern for the Indian navy is going to be from Chinese SSNs and SSBNs and diesels operating in the Indian ocean. The Indians need to develop their own active towed arrays as soon as possible if they want to have the ability to counter the Chinese.

    • Rob C.

      Another problem they need to think of is being able handle and maintain a nuclear reactor on a surface vessel. Indian had a lot problems working out corruption during this ship construction process. If they don’t clean up their people, a larger nuclear power vessel could be environmental disaster waiting to happen.

      • IAF101

        Something that is commonly not known is the Indian navy has already operated a charlie class nuclear submarine for close to a decade with no issues. Also, there is adequate skill and technological resources to fuel and repair nuclear propulsion issues from both the decade of operating the charlie class and the construction of the domestic SSBN. So its feasible.

        There were ZERO corruption issues with regards to this vessel or any other aircraft carrier project being built in India so far. Also corruption is just as much an issue with china, russia or even the usa or uk where it is mostly the private sector that is building these vessels. In india, nuclear propulsion is exclusively controlled by state industries – which while usually considered corrupt have no incentive to engage in corruption because no private suppliers or opportunities for individual profit will present themselves. The main concern therefore be sloppy oversight and poor quality standards. Fortunately the navy has enough expertise with nuclear propulsion (though much more is required) to forsee any major catastrope .

  • Fullpower

    It is not just the power plant but the entire industrial base to support it. Don’t assume that it is just a matter of taking a civilian nuclear power plant to sea. It is more complex than that, with major downsides if not done right. Also, while saving on ship’s fuel payload, the aircraft still require aviation fuel. RAS is still on the schedule.