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INS Vikrant – A Force Multiplier

Naval Veteran
Tue, 10 Aug 2021   |  Reading Time: 4 minutes

INS Vikrant – A Force Multiplier

Naval Veteran

A Naval Officer’s Riposte to Mr Bharat Karnad’s Piece “INS Vikrant – A Naval Liability” published in Chanakya Forum. (https://chanakyaforum.com/ins-vikrant-a-naval-liability/)

Dear Mr Karnad,

It is not every day that one feels the urge to respond to your articles, blogs or comments, no matter how provocative they are. However, after reading your latest piece in the Chanakya Forum titled “INS Vikrant – A Naval Liability’’(9 August, 2021), I am persuaded to believe that your piece deserves a response to correct an imbalanced narrative. I have read your magnum opus, “Why is India Not a great Power (Yet)”, and must say that the book is thought provoking though (yet) not fully convincing, at many places. Disagreement of views, however, does not make the book a liability.

From someone who identifies himself with a rather self-aggrandising description as “India’s Foremost Conservative Strategist”, certainly, a more researched approach was expected. But alas, what we have is a reinforcement of a drivel argument.

It is not my intention to embark upon a literary mission to bring out the virtues of an aircraft carrier, nor am I keen to contest you on everything you bring out in your critique. I will however, try and disambiguate some tactical notions that you seem to have misrepresented, and suited their flawed understanding to support your argument, to present a one-sided picture to the reader.

Firstly, aircraft carriers as prized targets in a war. Yes, they are, and would be prized targets, and why not, given what they bring in the battlefield? They offer unparalleled mobility of airpower, their air group complicating the enemy’s operational plans by presenting the factor of uncertainty in the direction from where offensive action could come.

As we speak, OSINT indicates that a US aircraft carrier (possibly USS Ronald Reagan) is likely operating somewhere in the northern Indian Ocean, engaged in launching regular sorties of strike aircraft to support government forces in Afghanistan. Against an advancing and rampaging Taliban, continual air support by the US is the Afghan government’s, and Afghan National Defence and Security Forces’, only hope. This kind of capability provides the flexibility to the US to reduce “boots on ground” and give “stand-off” support, as per its political decision to proceed with the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

No other type of ship can provide this kind of flexibility to strategic planners in a crisis scenario. As prized targets of war, therefore, you do to Carriers what you would do to your crown jewels – protect them, and take measures to safeguard them. That’s what the Navies do to their flat-tops, by providing them escorts and planning their voyage in a tactically prudent manner.

To be sure, aircraft carriers aren’t ‘sitting ducks’ as some tend to make them to be; they have their own integral defence mechanism against incoming missiles and aircraft, and such systems are designed to engage multiple targets simultaneously.

Secondly, the issue of ‘tying down’ other surface combatant vessels as ‘escorts’. Let us be clear, with or without aircraft carriers as their protective ‘main body’, combatant units of a surface Fleet prefer to manoeuvre as a composite group, for mutual support. Usually, there is a Fleet tanker in company, which is as preciously guarded as the Carrier, for it quenches the ‘thirst’ of all men-o-war. In turns, warships keep an eye and lend an ear with their sensors, with rapt attention, to provide mutual support against intruders and prowlers. Therefore, to say that only because an aircraft carrier is present in the quiver that other destroyers and frigates get drawn in as escorts, is erroneous and misleading.

Thirdly, the cost factor. Makes an impressionable argument to the uninitiated, only to the point where the weakness in it is exposed with persuasion. This happens when you get into the details of what could one expect to achieve, tactically, by having any number of “multi-purpose” frigates, to replace the role of an aircraft carrier.  Last heard, the inquirers haven’t got back!

Naval platforms are role specific. The argument highlighting the numbers of frigates that can be purchased within the cost of one carrier is as specious as the one which champions buying ten fast interceptor boats within the cost of one frigate. The diverse platforms are not mutually interchangeable, and hence cannot supplant each other for the designed role. Every type of platform has a distinctive role, based on its attributes that can be harnessed in an operational scenario. Naval operations are all about assigning the right platforms for appropriate tasks and missions.

Fourthly, the doubts by Doubting Thomases in US naval quarters, on utility and survivability of aircraft carriers, which has been alluded to by you in the piece. It bears a mention here that the Carriers in question are the 1,00,000 Tonnes Super Carriers ( _Nimitz_ class) which the US Navy predominantly operates. They are truly gigantic, and far bigger and costlier than the medium size carrier (40,000 tonnes) that IAC1 or INS Vikramaditya is.

You might be aware that there are over 40 aircraft carriers operated by thirteen navies in the world. They come in various shapes and sizes. India is not alone in aspiring for Carriers. China, the main subject of your conservatism for many years, is building more Carriers after Liaoning, and some estimates point to Beijing’s ambition of building six carriers in the medium term.

The unfortunate part of your piece is its abject lack of rigour that one would expect from a seasoned analyst. By resting the chunk of the argument on the plank of cost effectiveness, you have eroded whatever little debating value that might have accrued on the merits of size of the platform, composition of air group, type of propulsion etc. For those who have operated at sea know the value of having air power in the theatre of operations. It provides a decisive edge to switch between a defensive to an offensive posture, as per the tempo of operations.

Be it to defend the nation’s island territories from invasion or encroachment, defence of overseas bases, or carrying the battle in the enemy’s lair in an ultimate calling of his bluff, the role and utility of an aircraft carrier is indispensable. Navies tend to choose its size, air group and propulsion wisely to suit their needs and limitations.

The true debate surrounding aircraft carriers should centre upon the supplementary capabilities that must be developed with the mainstreaming of such capability – assimilation of new technologies in naval aviation, development of amphibious warfare capabilities and creation of maintenance wherewithal for the new inductions. By flogging an old horse, the game is lost before it is even started – whether Mr Karnad likes it or not, aircraft carriers of friendly and unfriendly disposition are here to stay, for good.

***********

The author is a Naval Veteran and follows matters maritime very closely.

Image Reference – IAC-1 Vikrant going for its maiden sea trials – INS Vikrant (2013) – Wikipedia

 

 


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POST COMMENTS (12)

Rituraj Singh

Aug 31, 2021
The GOI needs to spend around 200 billion dollars for the capital outlay of the three armed forces in 10 years. Much has changed in just one month. It is certain that China will cross the Taiwan strait in about 10-15 years, or even much less, starting the war. And, we must remain a formidable force in the region till that time. The Air force needs around 60 squadrons, or more than 1000 fighters till then along with, armed and attack drones in good numbers (which we will get following Project Cheetah, DRDO Archer UAV, and acquisition of Reaper drones), and attack helos, also with a few attack/bombers or strategic bombers. The Navy on the other hand needs at more than 30 each of submarines, destroyers, frigates, and corvettes (of which as per now, only corvettes will be in such numbers) till 2030 or 35. Also, the Navy needs minesweepers and one more carrier to be built. But, the GOI must also make at least 4 artificial islands in the Arabian Sea and Indian ocean region as Naval bases, which would cost much less than carriers. The Army on the other hand is sufficient, but the GOI and the companies and other institutions must fasten up the development of new and modern mechanised infantry, artilleries and defence systems. Thank You. Heil Bharatvarsh.

Anuj

Aug 19, 2021
The question is in what context is the carrier battlegroup relevant. W.R.T. IAC1 it is a stepping stone towards building a stronger foundation for a nation which aspires to be on a aggressive economic growth trajectory. Simply put, you cannot use the same vault to safe keep 2 KG of Gold vs 20 KG of Gold, need greater insurance basically. At some point in time IN will need to start projecting its power beyond its backyard, at times deliver a punch to some where it may be required in the near future. We do not build capabilities to compete with other nations in terms of just numbers. We do what is required to optimally be prepared to defend and if required swiftly shift to offensive. The utility of ICA1 can be questioned at this point in time but in context of nations future it is simply indispensable. Albeit, we need to also focus on complementing it with dedicated elements of the battle group.

Dr M

Aug 19, 2021
Very well articulated curt, crisp and tempered argument. Navy is not as simplistic as Karnad saab thinks, Frigates and aircraft carriers comparison is more like comparing an AK 47 with a T 90 Tank, there is no sense of proportion between the two, both have different roles, requirements advantages and disadvantages, a clever tactician knows how best to juggle the assets available for achieving a desired result, a clever strategist allows the play out of various tactics to achieve the larger goal. Maybe karnad saab needs to revisit the bare basics of war fighting.

sharmla dharamalingam

Aug 15, 2021
Beautiful, Objective and well constructed riposte by Naval Veteran. Me thinks Bharat Kanad doth protest too much! Protecting one's sovereign security and interests should never be measured agaist monetary trade_off. If Kanad is advocating India's finances should be better spent provinding services and infrastructure to its citizens; then consider this: If State's interests are not fiercely protected, then there will be NO citizens to provide services and infrastructure for! Kanad _ Let's not argue for argument's sake or a contrary devil's advocate! It is an offensive slight to the brave men and women in uniform who serve the country!

Praveen

Aug 12, 2021
Jai Hind...💗💗

Bhavil

Aug 12, 2021
We definitely need at least 3 aircraft carriers in order to maintain maritime stability and to some extent domination in the Indian ocean region. Our counterpart china which has now become a global headache is expanding its Navy at a rocket speed. Also carriers can help us with the islands security and monitoring. Going by situation.we di need one more carrier at least and india should now focus more than any time on expanding its Navy and Air force .

Bharat Karnad

Aug 11, 2021
Rao@ — I respect your arguments. My piece (https://chanakyaforum.com/ins-vikrant-a-naval-liability/ ) was solicited by Chanakaya Forum as an op/ed. It is for consumption in a few minutes, not a scholarly treatise that is “well researched” to mull over a fortnight. For that you’d better go to my numerous books and other serious writings. For a financially strained country the choices are in terms of tradeoffs of sea presence — and not solely in terms of the tactical/strategic value of aircraft carriers. And that’s my main point. Your reference to USS Reagan CVN in this context is diversionary and irrelevant. At 100,000 tonnes it carries an air wing with aircraft with range to hit Taliban targets in Afghanistan from North Arabian Sea station. It is not the sort of capability the Indian Navy can aspire to in the forseeable future. The Royal Navy when it contemplated the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers started with the USN notions of very large size before working out the math — every which way — and concluding that carriers in the 36,000 tonne class offer optimum value. They got it up to 65,000 tonne class as compromise! The bulk of the 14 odd countries you mention boast hepter carriers, not the genuine thing. The hepter carrier vs a normal carrier is a separate argument. In any case, these helicopter carrier countries are not in the financial straits India is in. My opposition to the carrier is not singular but shared, as you are no doubt aware, by many very reputable naval persons. Chief among them Rear Admiral KC ‘Raja’ Menon (Retd), arguably the finest scholar-sailor the navy has produced to-date. This is an ongoing debate and those pro-carriers will growingly be on the losing side owing to the sea-skimming supersonic/hypersonic guided munitions that will become available to all, even itsy-bitsy navies, making it difficult for large warships, like carriers, to survive. Especially, in an environment dense with space-based and roving surveillance and tracking sensors where the vast oceanic expanses will be of no avail (to “hide” that is). We can adduce all the reasons we want to continue to have carriers in the IN, but cannot avoid the problems with their extreme vulnerability. If as you say, you have read my ‘Why India is Not a great Power (Yet)’, you’ll have noticed the tanker-to-warship ratio I brought up to suggest why the IN is far from an effective naval force even in its own Indian Ocean backyard, and in the frigate/destroyer/minesweeper/ conventional subamrine tradeoff mix I should have also included tankers for maintaining a lively and more extensive sea presence than the one we can manage with two aircraft carriers. Moreover, you end up buttressing my point that warships are deployed in small composite packets — for sea presence, presumably, and, therefore, there’d be more such small flotillas roaming the proximal seas, covering more maritime space, than if these are assigned as carrier escort! Further, you say you were not persuaded by the ‘Yet’ case I made in my book; that means you believe India is already a Great Power! I’d have expected that as an ex-naval person with military sensibilities grounded in reality, you would be less susceptible to political rhetoric and sloganeering!

Ankit singh Bhadauria

Aug 10, 2021
Well Bharat karnad as a stretgist seems some time convincing and sone time opposite altogether. So yes Indian Navy needs 3 Aircraft carriers and these are assets not liability.

Sachin

Aug 10, 2021
Perfect reply to Arm chair strategists

Mukesh.Naik

Aug 10, 2021
Sir, Yes, as India will be looking beyond Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal in near future. Aircraft Carriers will prove an valuable asset instead of a liability.

roshan kumar

Aug 10, 2021
very informative and accurate answer to all the so called defence analysts.

vishal

Aug 10, 2021
good post, very well written, better than a journalist

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