Tuesday, 13 August 2013

The new INS Vikrant is launched and Chinese newspapers get nervous

INS Vikrant has been launched, and India is able to claim being able to build Aircraft Carriers (power projection assets) in addition to nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (strategic nuclear assets). This is a step up for the Indian Navy. Of course, India has had carriers for a long time, just that it never built one on its own.

The Chinese newspapers were highly suspicious of JMSDF Izumo, the carrier-like helicopter destroyer that Japan just built. Izumo is pretty heavy for a helicopter destroyer, although the design seems unable to carry anything other than helicopters. Even if someone installed a ski-jump on Izumo, it's hard to say whether Izumo would be able to operate fully loaded harriers given the position of the forward elevator. It's large enough to operate STOVL aircraft, but its design really doesn't seem to be capable of doing that. It could operate something like the F-35B, but that would require the installation of heat-resistant tiles all over the deck. The F-35B's huge main engine dumps heat onto flight decks like there's no tomorrow, and even the USMC's V-22 Osprey tends to dump an excess of heat onto flight decks. Izumo, even for all her carrier-like features, is really a helicopter carrier and nothing further.

Here's a fine image that shows the Izumo, the older Hyuga, and the size of the hangar areas. Izumo's aft elevator has been moved to the side, possibly due to hangar space considerations. Placing the elevators on the centerline necessarily restricts hangar space. A centerline elevator would make sense if the hangard were broad enough to move multiple aircraft to the elevator from different spots around the elevator - but that's not the case. The elevator just leaves a hole in the deck when it's down the way it is.


Vikrant is, plainly, a fully capable STOBAR carrier by design. It was meant to extract the maximum possible takeoff and landing run lengths by design, its elevators are both deck-edge (meaning that they don't leave huge holes in the deck when they're down and don't waste internal space), and it has a proper ski-ramp to catapult aircraft into the skies. It's a proper carrier, and much closer to China's Liaoning. Liaoning has an unquestionable advantage in terms of size - it's a larger, heavier, warship than Vikrant, and it won't be matched by the Indian Navy until INS Vishal comes in. Of course, the Vishal will be matched against far more potent rivals when it comes into existence - the Chinese have plans for their own indigenous nuclear-powered, catapult-equipped carriers, and are using Liaoning as the basis to learn as much as they can about carrier air operations before those carriers come in. They really know how to hit the deck running.

To throw in a different perspective, the entire carrier arms race that has begun here looks pretty for a military fan. But apart from the economic and industrial benefits of militarized Keynesianism, there's a certain pointlessness to all of this. India and China have nuclear warheads and missiles. Japan has been under the United States' nuclear umbrella since the Cold War. Apart from relief and emergency operations, it is quite hard to imagine how these new carriers will come to use in a conflict without nuclear weapons. The United States has put its carrier strike aircraft to good use in Iraq and Afghanistan, but there's no way any other country would get away with waging war so far from home even in the wake of the most monstrous terrorist attack imaginable. How much are all these countries really going to achieve in the end? What war are they waiting to use their carriers for, now that they have the ultimate shield against aggression (nuclear weaponry)? 

No comments:

Post a Comment