The recent reports in the British media of India having ‘lodged a firm expression of interest’ in the purchase of one of the two Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers being built by BAE Systems, have failed to elicit much of an interested reaction in the high offices of the Indian Navy.
Naval sources, when asked about such ‘an expression’, admitted they had been interested to the extent of having asked around about it. “But we just don’t see it as part of our plan,” said one naval officer.
While the INS Viraat, formerly the HMS Hermes of 1959 vintage displaces around 28,000 tons fully loaded, the Gorshkov, commissioned in 1987 and to be renamed the INS Vikramaditya, displaces 45,000 tons. The two new Indian Indigenous Aircraft Carrier, the Vikrant class, are designed to displace 40,000 tons, while the British Queen Elizabeth class carriers, expected to enter service in the latter half of the next decade, displaces 65,000 tons.
But the brasshat brushes that aside. “See its not so much about tonnage or the number of aircraft a carrier can carry. During the Second World War, carriers were crammed with aircraft, far beyond their designed capacity. If we were to be interested at all in the Queen Elizabeth class, it would be because of their claimed air defenses. If we were to want it, it would be because of what they claim their radar systems could do.”
The naval aviator explains, “We’ve got the INS Viraat, an old ship, but now refurbished and good for maybe another five years. We hope to get the Gorshkov, in the next three or four years. That should be good for another twenty years maybe. We’ve got plans for building two for our own aircraft carriers over the next decade. They’ll be good for another thirty to forty years. Its difficult to see the Indian Navy going for the British QE class, unless there are serious problems with the Vikrant class or the strategic environment changes so substantially as to merit another carrier. Even then, its difficult to see us going for an imported carrier if we’ve established the basic capabilities to build our own. We just don’t see it as part of our strategic planning.”
The British government has been on a defense cost-cutting spree and reports have claimed that one of the two planned Queen Elizabeth class carriers, replacements for their two active and one reserve Invincible class carriers, are being considered for sale and that India has expressed interest in the purchase. The cost of the carrier is estimated to be worth over US$ 3 billion.