India, US move closer to jointly developing Next-Gen aircraft carrier

Aircraft carrier

India and the US are inching closer towards jointly developing a next-generation aircraft carrier to bolster Indian Navy’s blue water capabilities, according to a top Pentagon official. The first meeting between the two sides was held in August 2015. The two countries had announced the establishment of a joint working group for the proposed aircraft carrier during US President Barack Obama’s visit to India in January 2015.

The Indian delegation led by Vice Admiral S P S Cheema, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief (FOC-in-C), Western Naval Command, also visited the US Navy’s state-of-the-art aircraft carrier, PCU Gerald Ford. The carrier is currently under construction at Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia and received briefs on US Navy management of aircraft carrier programmes. The Joint Working Group on Aircraft Carrier Technology Cooperation, co-chaired by US Navy’s Programme Executive Officer for Aircraft Carriers, Rear Admiral Tom Moore and India’s Controller for Warship Production and Acquisition, Vice Admiral G S Pabby, is part of India-US Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI). 

Ashley Tellis, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment For International Peace and former senior adviser to the US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs in the Bush administration, wrote a paper titled ‘Making Waves: Aiding India’s Next-Generation Aircraft Carrier’. In his paper Mr Tellis speaks about the need for India’s next-generation aircraft carrier to include its air wing and its capacity for combat operations that will be superior to its Chinese counterparts. He also states how India should not succumb to the temptation to make collaborative development merely an exercise in procuring technology. Mr Tellis was also instrumental in negotiating the India, US civil nuclear agreement.

Speaking about the opportunities to provide assistance to India, Keith Webster, Director and International Cooperation Office of the US Under Secretary of Defence for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics said, “Because we are at the beginning of India’s journey of making a significant decision on class size and capability, the US government and the US Navy has not been asked by India for anything that we would not be willing to provide them at this point of time. We are in the infancy of this journey and we are waiting for them to make some decisions that would then lead to may be more specific requests of us.” 

India needs to develop a next-generation aircraft carrier due to China’s growing assertion in the seas. Having a next-generation carrier would strengthen India’s position and enhance its maritime security.

While there have been critics on both sides regarding providing assistance to India in developing a joint next-generation aircraft carrier, the criticism in India has largely been more due to suspicions about the intentions of the US. The cost-factor is also something that critics have spoken about as they feel it is a very expensive proposition. Nonetheless, under DTTI the two countries seem to be making progress and the latest discussion on building a joint next-generation aircraft carrier for India augurs well for the bilateral relations between India and US.

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