Sunday, June 2, 2013

INS Vishal might use EMALS for CATOBAR operations

The Indian Navy — one of just nine navies that operate aircraft carriers — is thinking high-tech in planning its second indigenous aircraft carrier, INS Vishal. The admirals are deciding whether INS Vishal, still only a concept, should launch aircraft from its deck using a technology so advanced that it is not yet in service anywhere: the Electro-Magnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS).

Getting a fully loaded combat aircraft airborne off a short, 200-metre-long deck is a key challenge in aircraft carrier operations. The INS Viraat, currently India’s only aircraft carrier, uses Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) since its Harrier “jump-jets” take off and land almost like helicopters. INS Vikramaditya, which Russia will deliver this year, uses Short Take Off But Arrested Recovery (STOBAR). The Vikramaditya’s MiG-29K fighters will fly off an inclined ramp called a “ski-jump”; and land with the help of arrester wires laid across the deck, which snag on a hook on the fighter’s tail, literally dragging it to a halt. This system will also be used on the first indigenous aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, which Cochin Shipyard plans to deliver by 2017.

INS Vikramaditya at sea trials ( Image Courtesy - ) 

But INS Vishal, which will follow the Vikrant, might employ a third technique that India has never used -— Catapult Assisted Take Off But Arrested Recovery, or CATOBAR. Perfected by the US Navy since World War II, this has a steam-driven piston system along the flight deck “catapulting” the aircraft to 200 kilometres per hour, fast enough to get airborne. With greater steam pressure, significantly heavier aircraft can be launched. US Navy carriers launch the E-2D Hawkeye, a lumbering Airborne Early Warning (AEW) aircraft that scans airspace over hundreds of kilometres.

EMALS, the new-generation catapult that the Indian Navy is evaluating, uses a powerful electro-magnetic field instead of steam. Developed by General Atomics, America’s largest privately held defence contractor, EMALS has been chosen by the US Department of Defence for its new-generation aircraft carriers. The first EMALS-equipped carrier, the USS Gerald R Ford, will enter service by 2016. In Delhi Last Thursday, General Atomics briefed thirty Indian Navy captains and admirals on EMALS. Scott Forney III, the senior General Atomics official who conducted the briefing, told Business Standard that tight US controls over this guarded technology required special permission from Washington for sharing technical details of EMALS with India.

Senior Indian naval planners tell Business Standard that INS Vikrant, India’s next 40,000 tonne aircraft carrier, will use STOBAR to operate its complement of MiG-29K and Tejas light fighters. But Vikrant’s successor, the 65,000 tonne INS Vishal, could well be a CATOBAR carrier that launches larger and more diverse aircraft.

“While current fighters like the MiG-29K can operate with STOBAR systems, our options will increase with CATOBAR. We could operate heavier fighters, AEW aircraft and, crucially, UCAVs (unmanned combat air vehicles). A UCAV would require a CATOBAR system for launch,” says one admiral.

News Courtesy -


  1. Hi Taurgo

    Very interesting post. Vikramaditya may take 3 years after 2014 when it is ready for India's use to actually go into service - so 2017. The Vikrant in service by 2020.

    With India getting used to operations these two medium-large ski-jump carriers Vishal might only go into service 2030.

    Naval aviators may have many perceptual problems operating off ski-jumps AND catapult flattops.

    I don't know if it would make much sense operating two aircraft types (MiG-29K and Tejas) in such small numbers. The relative maturity of the MiG-29K may suggest only it be used. Occasional use of Tejas might be for PR only - to justify its decades long development costs.



  2. Thanks for your comment, Pete.

    In my opinion, it might not take more than one year for INS Vikramaditya to be fully operational with Indian Navy. These are the data points for my opinion - (1) Indian Naval pilots have been training with US Navy and Russian Navy for more than one year now., practicing ski-jump take off as well as arrested recovery. (2) Indian Navy has been operating aircraft carriers for more than 50 years now, so has standard-operating-procedures in place. (3) Indian Forces are quite familiar with Mig 29 and now Mig 29 K has been with Indian Navy for over an year now, so that will have its own advantage when INS Vikramaditya arrives at Indian Naval Base in Nov 2013.

    Now for the CATOBAR operations, if my memory is still faithful to me, INS Vikrant which was commissioned in Indian Navy in 1961 was initially equipped with catapult assisted take off, it was later converted into ski-jump for Sea Harriers. So, definitely it would take time, but Indian Navy would still have golden memories of its glorious chapter from 1971.

    As for Tejas, it is a seed for futuristic Indian Aerospace Industry, and slowly but surely it looks to be getting close to become a reality. India needs to have a robust defence industry in place, to build up a solid deterrent defence infrastructure in place.

  3. Hi Taurgo

    Thanks for the details and history in your reply.

    I agree that the airwing element are experienced and fairly ready. My suggested timings for Vikramaditya and Vikrant are mainly based on the thorough technical and training processes that all new vessels need to go through. This takes years and will involve the whole crew, on shore support elements and other vessels of the battle groups formed around these carriers.

    Yes I think Tejas has its operational uses and its an ideal technology platform to help develop the Indian aerospace industry. My main reservations is operating two types of jets in a carrier airwing of just 16 to 20 jets. I'd predict the wings will be all Mig 29 (operational) and some navalised Tejas in development for several years after INS Vikramaditya goes into service.

    We'll see :)