The Eagle Bear Affair – OpEd
India aspires to build a nuclear super carrier INS Vishal to add to its maritime footprint. The carrier is slated to be a 65000 Ton displacement vessel, 300 metres long and 70 metres wide. It would give the Indian Navy the capability to conduct operations in distant oceanic regions while engaging both land and sea based enemy targets.
A nuclear super carrier gives India the potential to ensure operational stability of its naval forces, protect its landing troops and provide air defence. Such an addition gives India the ability to transform itself into an expeditionary military power.
India and the United States ( US) are currently engaged in discussions on ‘Transfer of Technology’ (ToT) for a Nuclear supercarrier. Amidst this ongoing process, Russia has offered to sell such a nuclear supercarrier, the STORM.
The offer comes at a time when Russia is desperately looking at measures to boost its own economy which has taken a massive beating especially with falling crude prices and international sanctions. It is akin to the sale of twenty four SU 35 Fighters to China , a more than $2 Billion deal based on harsh economic realities that Putin is facing domestically.
India, however needs to measure it’s responses to both the discussion with the US and the offer from Russia on stringent parameters which necessarily arise from its own requirements, the technologies, the financial angle and geopolitical realities.
Pros and Cons
1. Technology existing with US -hastens the process of acquisition of technology which otherwise would mean international help.
2. Transfer of Technology will catapult India into select group of countries possessing such technology.
3. Financially viable proposition in the long term with additional promise of creation of employment opportunities.
4. It will further strengthen Indo-US ties.
5. The US is currently restricting itself to EMALS ( Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System).
6. So far no mention of transfer of nuclear propulsion technology.
7. Time bound project would augur well for the Indian Navy’s long term strategy.
1. India has worked with Russia for acquisition of INS Vikramaditya ( Kiev class carrier) which Russia claims gives it the requisite experience for building such supercarriers.
2. Russia claims it can give India the requisite nuclear propulsion technology
3. The supercarrier may cost as much as $ 12 billion- will that be a financially viable deal?
4. Any decision in favour of Russia will help to cement Indo-Russia relations which has taken a beating due to India’s perceived shift to the US for defence procurement.
5. If delays in Admiral Gorshkov’s case are any indication it may entail a long wait, jeopardising the Indian Navy’s strategic plans.
6. Russia has shown a tendency to go back on its guarantee process. There are no iron clad guarantees with Russia.
Barring the issue of nuclear propulsion technology , it may well be in Indian interest to continue with the US option. If a need is felt to buttress Indo-Russian relations , several other defence projects can do the same without holding to ransom such an important project as the nuclear supercarrier.
*Amitabh Hoskote, PHD Development and Conflict Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai