Carrier Battle Group for Force Projection

Carrier strike groups represent some of the most potent means of force projection in any nation’s military, made up of an aircraft carrier and assorted ships tasked with defending and supporting carrier operations

Issue: Aero India 2021 Special By Lt General Naresh Chand (Retd)Photo(s): By Indian Navy
INS Vikramaditya

Early Days

HMS Ark Royal was the first ship designed and built as a seaplane carrier and launched in 1914. The term ‘Fleet Air Arm’ came into being in 1924 and HMS Hermes became the first ship to be designed, built and commissioned as an aircraft carrier. The first aircraft carrier commissioned into the US Navy was USS Langley (CV-1) on March 20, 1922.

Since then there was no looking back and US has led the development of supercarriers. Currently the US Navy is developing only two classes of super carriers - the Nimitz-class and the modern day post-cold war Gerald R. Ford-class. The ten-ship Nimitz-class has been built and are on active duty. In the Gerald R. Ford Class, three are ready and the seven are under construction. All US aircraft carriers have nuclear propulsion.

Concept of Carrier Strike Group (CSG)

CSG is an operational formation conceived by the US Navy composed of an aircraft carrier, at least one cruiser, a destroyer squadron of at least two destroyers or frigates, a carrier air wing of 65 to 70 aircraft and about 7,500 personnel. It implies the same as a carrier battle group (CBG). The role being to threaten or strike hostile elements with air power, carry out intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and land marines if required. The US Navy maintains nine carrier strike groups.

Joint CSG of US and Britain

The US and Britain jointly declared forming a CSG 2021 deployment to be led by Britain’s aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth which has a displacement of 60,000 tonnes and can carry up to 60 aircraft. The deployment will include a detachment of US Marine Corps, F-35 Lightning II aircraft and the Navy’s USS Sullivan. The HMS Queen Elizabeth leads the Strike Group, which includes nine ships, 15 British and US fighter planes and 11 helicopters.

China

In December 2019, China commissioned its first domestically built aircraft carrier, Shandong, which was launched in 2017 and completed multiple sea trials during 2018-2019. The new carrier is a modified version of the Liaoning (Soviet Kuznetsov) design and also uses a ski jump for takeoff for its aircraft. China continues to work on its second domestically built aircraft carrier since 2019, which will be larger and fitted with a catapult launch system. It is expected to be operational by 2024, with additional carriers to follow.

Indian Perspective

EARLY YEARS

INS Vikrant. Indian Navy’s (IN) first aircraft carrier was INS Vikrant (formerly HMS Hercules) which was a Majestic class aircraft carrier of the Indian Navy. India purchased the INS Vikrant from the United Kingdom in 1957 and commissioned it in Mar 1961 and decommissioned it in January 1997. During 1971 War, Eastern Fleet was formed which consisted of INS Vikrant, the two Leopard-class frigates INS Brahmaputra and INS Beas, the two Petya III-class corvettes INS Kamorta and INS Kavaratti, and one submarine, INS Khanderi. This could be called India’s first CBG / CSG. Vikrant performed admirably by carrying out a blockade of then East Pakistan. Its aircrafts carried out strikes on shipping struck in Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar harbours, Khulna and the Port of Mongla. On December 14, the Sea Hawks attacked the cantonment area in Chittagong, destroying several Pakistani army barracks. Simultaneous attacks by Aliz├ęs continued on Cox’s Bazar. The crew of INS Vikrant earned two Maha Vir Chakras and twelve Vir Chakra gallantry medals for their part in the war.

INS Viraat. The second aircraft carrier was INS Viraat. It was a Centaur-class aircraft carrier in service with the Indian Navy. INS Viraat was the flagship of the Indian Navy, the oldest carrier in service and one of two aircraft carriers based in the Indian Ocean Region. Viraat was completed and commissioned in 1959 as the Royal Navy’s HMS Hermes and was transferred to India in 1987. On July 23, 2016, INS Viraat made her final journey from Mumbai to Kochi before retiring.

A potent Carrier Battle Group (CBG) is required - one on West Coast and one on East Coast which will provide immense leverage to guard India’s maritime interests

INS Vikramaditya. INS Vikramaditya is the Indian Navy’s largest short take-off, but assisted recovery (STOBAR) aircraft carrier converted from the Russian Navy’s decommissioned Admiral Gorshkov vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) missile cruiser carrier. INS Vikramaditya was commissioned into service in November 2013. It was operationally deployed with full complement of MiG-29 aircraft in May 2014. The vessel can carry about 30 long-range multi-role fighters with anti-ship missiles, air-to-air missiles, guided bombs and rockets. The aircraft aboard the carrier include MiG-29K/Sea Harrier combat aircraft, Kamov 31 Airborne Early Warning (AEW) helicopter, Kamov 28 naval helicopter, Sea King helicopter, ALH-Dhruv and Chetak helicopter.

Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC-71)

CCS approval for IAC was accorded in 2003 and Cochin Shipyard Limited (CSL) commenced construction in 2005. Meanwhile, the nomenclature of the carrier project had changed from Sea Control Ship (SCS) to Air Defence Ship (ADS) and finally to Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC-71). The first IAC-71 was named Vikrant after India’s first aircraft carrier and was expected to enter service by 2015 but the project is delayed and will undergo sea trials in 2021 and then commissioned. The second IAC-71 has been named Vishal.

Vikrant. Vikrant marks a special feather in indigenous defence capabilities- this being the first ever aircraft carrier to be designed by the Directorate of Naval Design of the Indian Navy, the first warship to be built by CSL and the first warship to be built entirely using indigenously produced steel. It has a displacement of about 40,000 tonnes and the take off and landing is of STOBAR (Short Take-Off but Arrested Recovery) configuration. Other major assemblies/components like the Main Switch Board, steering gear, water tight hatches, high capacity air conditioning and refrigeration systems, pumps, Integrated Platform Management System; the massive gear box, tens of thousands of electrical cable, ship’s anchor chain cable and many more are all Indian manufacture. Vikrant will be capable of operating an aircraft mix of the Russian MiG-29K and LCA (Navy) fighters being developed indigenously by HAL. Its helicopter component will include the Kamov 31 and the indigenously developed ALH helicopters. The progress of Vikrant was reviewed by the Empowered Apex Committee (EAC) headed by Ajay Kumar, Defence Secretary, on January 20, 2020 at CSL. This was the 13th EAC Review Meeting of the Project.

In his annual Navy Day press conference, Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Karambir Singh mentioned that “Our operations shall revolve around two active Carrier Battle Groups, necessitating a force level of three Carriers”.

After the Navy Chief’s statement, the second carrier IAC-71 namely Vishal is very much on the cards. CNS’ statement was made in light of the emerging threat from China which mandates two operation sea worthy CSGs at a time and the third one under going major refit/ maintenance.

Vishal. Vishal aircraft carrier is planned to be built by CSL for the Indian Navy. It is intended to be the second aircraft carrier to be built in India after Vikrant. A new design has been proposed for the second carrier, featuring significant changes from Vikrant, including an increase in displacement. An Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) and a displacement of about 60,000 tonnes is planned. This is a very ambitious projects and the air element will also be upgraded thereby raising the cost.

Maritime Force Projection

Each country with a navy has its own perception of maritime power projection depending on its maritime threat and envisaged role of its navy. One commonly used definition is - ‘The strategic offensive role of a navy is projection of force into areas beyond a country’s shores (for example, to protect sea-lanes, deter or confront piracy, ferry troops, or attack other navies, ports, or shore installations). The strategic defensive purpose of a navy is to frustrate seaborne projection-of-force by enemies. The strategic task of the navy also may incorporate nuclear deterrence by use of submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

Requirement of Force Projection

India and Vietnam have decided to step up defence and oil exploration to boost their bilateral ties. They also reaffirmed the importance of freedom of navigation, over-flight and unimpeded economic activities in the South China Sea (SCS), amid China flexing its muscles in the Indo-Pacific region. India’s 55 per cent trade passes through SCS. China has intruded on the LAC in Ladakh since May 2020 and amassed large number of troops. Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh, in his press conference said, that his force is alive to various threats in the maritime domain including from China and is fully ready to deal with them. A potent CBG is required - one on West Coast and one on East Coast which will provide immense leverage to guard India’s maritime interests.