U.S. and India to Cooperate on Aircraft Carrier Technology

January 27, 2015 5:11 PM
An artist's conception of INS Vikrant. Indian Navy Image
An artist’s conception of INS Vikrant. Indian Navy Image

U.S. and India will create a working group to share aircraft carrier technology and design, according to an agreement signed earlier this month as part of President Obama’s visit to the country.

Included in a joint Sunday statement, released by the White House, was a clause called for the creation of working group to “explore” carrier technology sharing but gave few details on the effort.

It’s unclear yet as to which U.S. agencies would participate in the working group.

Representatives with U.S. Naval Systems Command – the Navy’s shipbuilding and design arm – said the outline of the effort had not yet reached their office.

The U.S. Navy’s sole carrier builder – Huntington Ingalls Industries – referred USNI News to the Navy.

In a statement from Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said deeper defense cooperation, “will support stronger military-to-military engagement, including deeper maritime cooperation and increased opportunities in technology and trade.”

Even if the scope of the working group is still vague, partnering in any capacity with the U.S. on carrier development would be a boon to the Indian development of its internal carrier program.

India’s first domestic carrier – the 40,000 ton INS Vikrant – has been plagued with both cost overruns and production delays and now could cost as much as $4 billion and become operational in 2018 – five years late.

Some of that U.S. help could be directed toward helping India include nuclear power in its second homegrown carrier.

In September, the head of India’s naval design bureau said that nuclear power could still be an option in the second carrier – Vishal – currently in its conceptual design phase.

Other American technology wants from the Indians could include aircraft carrier catapults.

Indian press reports from 2013 said representatives from U.S. defense company General Atomics had briefed Indian defense officials on the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS), the next generation carrier catapult technology that will be used on the U.S. Gerald R. Ford-class (CVN-78) carriers.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a MiG-29K on a June 14 visit to INS Vikramaditya. NDTV Photo
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a MiG-29K on a June 14 visit to INS Vikramaditya. NDTV Photo

Other areas defense areas mentioned in the statement include development of four so-called pathfinder projects and the development of jet engine technology.

The agreement is also bad news for Russia – India’s long-time military technology partner, said Eric Wertheim author of U.S. Naval Institute’s Combat Fleets of the World told USNI News on Tuesday.

India fields several Russian designed ships, including its 1970s era modified Kiev-class carrier, INS Vikramaditya, and an Akula-class nuclear attack submarine.

However Russia has preformed poorly in regards to delivery dates for promised kit and cost overruns.

Russia is also inconsistent with its technology development.

“If India keeps relying on Russia on their primary partner they’re going to lose in the technology race,” Wertheim said.

Scorpène-class submarine
Scorpène-class submarine

In last few years India has looked more to Western Europe and the U.S. for defense material with buys including the U.S. Boeing P-8I maritime patrol aircraft and the estimated $4.6 billion purchase of six French and Spanish designed Scorpène-class diesel-electric attack submarines (SSK).

Part of India’s desire to diversify its defense spending could be tied to China’s own blue water naval expansion.

In the last few years, China has both operated more and more in the Indian Ocean and tightened military and economic bonds with Russia, raising concerns with India’s leadership.

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services since 2009 and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.
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