India unveiled its indigenous Aircraft carrier few days back raising hackles in the neighbourhood, not Pakistan, but China that now it would be easy for India to project its power in the Chinese area of interests like Strait of Malacca, South China Sea and Pacific. However, concerns rising in China are getting exaggerated as this aircraft carrier may not be ready by 2020 and India already has been using aircraft carrier for decades and never moved it much away from Indian region.
However, one thing is for sure, if the upcoming sea trials would be successful, India can reduce its dependence on other countries for import of costly arms and weapons. It might give alarming signals to India’s favourite supplier of weapons, Russia, but it is not so, as helping India achieve self-reliance was one of Russia’s calculated aim which is why it ventured in many joint development and production of sophisticated weapons.
|INS Vikrant, credits on the image|
The new air craft carrier would give India self-reliance in this technology which can reduce the import of costly arms and weapons. An aircraft carrier along with nuclear submarine is necessary for a navy to be called a true blue navy. India is among the elite group of ten countries who possess an aircraft carrier in service at the moment. These countries are: US (10), Italy (2), UK (1), France (1), Russia (1), India (1), Spain (1), Brazil (1), China (1), and Thailand (1).
Last year China became the third country in Asia to possess an operational aircraft carrier. It is a bit surprising that China, which loves to project its military power got its first aircraft carrier so late. China shared the same mentality of Soviet Union that a missile worth $1 million can sink a carrier worth $1 billion. Today when China’s economy is impressive, it didn’t mind to roll out its own carrier in the sea as well. In 1998, Ukrainian Trade Minister Roman Shpek announced that a Hong Kong based travel agency Chong Lot Travel Agency Ltd. has won the bidding with $20 million. The idea was to convert the ship into a floating hotel and gambling parlour. However, China had bigger ambitions, it transferred the ship to a major Chinese Naval shipyard where it was renovated into an operational Aircraft Carrier. The ship initially lacked engines, a rudder and software.
In this article we will be comparing India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier and China’s first aircraft carrier Liaoning. Although the fair comparison would be between Liaoning and Vikramaditya as both belong to Soviet Era from their planning and after few months both will be operational, we will be coming up with an article on that soon. However, almost all of the development and construction of INS Vikrant was with India and most of the construction and development of Liaoning was with China this makes it interesting to compare the technology and equipment incorporated by both.
Liaoning (16) became People Liberation Army’s Navy’s first commissioned aircraft carrier on September 25, 2012. Originally laid down as Riga on December 6, 1985 in Mykolaiv, USSR (present Ukraine), the ship was launched on December 4, 1988. In late 1990 it was renamed as Varyag. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the ownership of the vessel was given to newly formed Ukraine. Since then the work on the ship had stopped. Varyag was structurally completed and had to be equipped with electronics. However, Ukraine considered holding the work and stripping the ship off important parts. In just seven years, in 1998 ship was put for auction without its engine, rudder and electronics.
In April 1998, Ukrainian trade minister confirmed the selling of Varyag aircraft carrier to China. After having huge political drama with Turkey for getting transit right from Black sea to Mediterranean sea through Turkish waters, the ship finally arrived in Chinese water after four years on February 20, 2002 taking a big round of Africa via Strait of Gibraltar, Cape of Good Hope and Strait of Malacca sailing with an average speed of mere 6 knots (11Km/h) completing a 28,200KM distance avoiding Suez Canal which doesn’t allow passage of dead ship and Indian waters which is full of diplomatic and political activities as India takes any Chinese action as alarming.
Varyag was docked in a dry dock in Dalian in June 2005. After six years on 10th August 2011, the ship began sea trials. The Ship was commissioned on 25th September 2012 as Liaoning. China claims it is a training ship and not operational however, sources declare that there are aircrafts in the hangar ready to fly and launch a mission.
|Infograph – Chinese Aircraft Carrier Liaoning, credits on the image itself.|
Liaoning is equipped with AESA and Sea Eagle (Type 381) 3D Radar developed in China. It has a range of 100 Km (62 mi) and Altitude of 8000m. The radar has the capability to track 10 targets simultaneously. Like almost all modern ships which have CIWS, Liaoning is equipped with three Chinese Type 1030 CIWS which has 10 barrels that can fire 30mm ammunition at the rate of 10,000 rounds/min. The Ship is equipped with Chinese FL-3000N SAM having maximum range of 9KM for subsonic targets and 6KM for supersonic targets. To protect itself from the submarines, it is equipped with ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) 12 tube rocket launchers.
INS Vikrant is equipped with Israeli ELTA MF Star Radar and Italian Selex RAN-40L radar. MF Star has the range greater than 25KM for low flying attacking missile and greater than 250KM for high flying aircrafts. Selex RAN-40L on the other hand has a maximum range of 400KM and minimum rang of 180m. In the area of early warning and enemy detection INS Vikrant has an upper hand. CIWS and LR SAM used in INS Vikrant is not known yet, once the information is available we will update soon. INS Vikrant is equipped with four Otobreda 76 mm Italian made compact cannon which has the capability to fire 120 rounds/min up to 20KM. Westland Sea King Helicopter will be primarily responsible for providing ASW capabilities to the Indian indigenous aircraft carrier. India has not declared yet if it has ASW rocket launchers on board INS Vikrant
1) Liaoning can carry thirty Su-33 design based indigenous Shenyang J-15 Carrier based Multirole fighter aircrafts. The fighter is still in the testing phase and on 25th November 2012, two J-15 aircraft successfully made arrested landing on Liaoning.
2) Changhe Z-8 based on French Aérospatiale SA 321 Super Frelon helicopters will be used for Search and Rescue and Anti-Submarine Warfare operations. It is equipped with a surface search radar and a French HS-12 dipping sonar and carries a Whitehead A244S torpedo under the starboard side of the fuselage.
3) Ka 31 Helicopters will be used for airborne early warning
INS Vikrant on the other hand will carry twelve Mig 29K on board. The aircraft completed sea trials for the Indian Navy in November 2012.
Apart from Mig 29K, the ship will carry another eight naval version of India’s indigenous HAL LCA Tejas delta wing aircrafts. Which might take another many years to become operational.
Like China, INS Vikrant will also be carrying Ka 31 Helicopters for airborne early warning operations.
British Westland Sea King helicopters will be used for launching Anti-Submarine and Anti-Ship operations.
If the jets and helicopters of Chinese ship is compared with the Indian ones, India lacks considerably in this department. Chinese aircraft Carrier can carry 30 Aircrafts and 24 Helicopters Compared to 20 Aircrafts and 10 Helicopters by Indian carrier. It gives a good advantage to the Chinese over Indians especially when their primary jet J-15 outsmarts Indian Mig 29K.
However, at the moment, neither J-15 nor HAL Tejas is ready, Mig 29K is operational and will find place in Vikramaditya aircraft carrier as soon as it is delivered to Indian Navy.
Liaoning with its 2200 crew and 67500 tons displacement can sail with the speed of 30 Kn (55.56 Km/hr) whereas INS Vikrant with its 1,400 crew and 40,000 tons displacement can sail with the speed of 28 Kn (52 Km/hr)
The Chinese aircraft carrier appears to be a great giant with slightly more advanced fleet in front of INS Vikrant as well as INS Vikramaditya. J-15 is yet to prove its capabilities while Mig 29K still finds trust among Indians and Russians. 4++ generation MiG-29K is a combat hardened aircraft, which has the unique ability to even find and chase stealth aircrafts. It is only used by India and Russia and no other country. It is a carrier specific combat aircraft and Russian Naval Aviation has placed an order to get 24 more Mig29K/KUB between 2013 and 2015.
Unlike other ships, aircraft carrier requires much more skilled and experienced crew to take full advantage of its capability and when it comes to experience, India enjoys experience of operating many since 1961, which is more than 50 years. India even has a wartime experience during 1971 Indo Pakistan war when INS Vikrant (not to be confused with the latest one) helped Indian Navy form a naval blockade against Pakistan and bomb ports of Cox Bazar, Chittagong, Khulna and Port of Mongla as Pakistan Navy was trying to break through the Indian Naval blockade using camouflaged merchant ships. A PTI report of 4 December 1971 read, “Chittagong harbour ablaze as ships and aircraft of the Eastern Naval Fleet bombed and rocketed. Not a single vessel can be put to sea from Chittagong.”
China has declared that it will use Liaoning only for training purpose and as a model to develop new indigenous aircraft carriers. However, it sounds little tricky as China, which had not included any aircraft carrier before in its fleet because of cost issues, has now made a complete, full-fledged advanced ready to launch mission carrier. Another thing that strengthens the doubt is that Liaoning was supposed to be a floating casino and today it is allowing J-15 to make landings. It could be a training ship until J-15 becomes operational after that nobody knows what is China’s plan. Claiming it to be a training ship might be just a move to calm down the rest of the world, and save its image that it actually didn’t buy Varyag aircraft carrier from Ukraine to make its own functional and ready to launch mission carrier.
Both Indian and Chinese aircraft carrier are using the technology used in former Soviet aircraft carriers for take-off. They rely on Short Takeoff but Arrested Recovery (STOBAR) system for launching and recovering aircraft. Latest Aircraft carriers are using Catapult-Assisted Takeoff but Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) system. STOBAR is easy to use, but limits the use of heavier aircraft and their payload. It is also difficult to operate bulky airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft using this system which can make the carrier very vulnerable during wartime. CATOBAR on the other hand is more advanced but needs precise designing and construction for it to function efficiently.
Indian Navy has taken the challenge to incorporate this latest technology in its second indigenous aircraft carrier, INS Vishal. For this, US based Northrop Grumman has offered to help India with the implementation of a steam catapult for CATOBAR on upcoming INS Vishal. Northrop Grumman expects if India develops and implements this technology on its aircraft carrier then it can become a good market for their E-2C Hawkeye AEW aircraft as CATOBAR system is ideal for launching bulky AEW aircrafts.
Now that both India and China have the capability to possess a true blue water navy. It would be interesting to see how both of them use their best assets to project their power and send warning. When Liaoning will be ready with J-15, it will be interesting to see whether China will send it first to deep Pacific or Indian Ocean.