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.