The Indian Navy is carrying out feasibility studies and tests to scout for alternative air defence systems for its largest warship, the INS Vikramaditya, that is currently vulnerable to air attacks due to an inordinate delay in the Indo-Israel protection system that was to be installed two years ago.
The aircraft carrier, that demonstrated its capabilities to Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week, does not have any self defence weapons on board, barring a chaff and flare system. It does not even have a close in weapon system (CIWS) to shoot down incoming air attacks at very close range, making it the only battleship of its kind in the world to be virtually unarmed.
Senior Navy officers say the CIWS, an AK 630 system to be manufactured in India, is now likely to be installed between March and June next year when the aircraft carrier will go for its first refit at Karwar. The radar-guided gun and rocket system will provide basic protection to the 44,500-ton aircraft carrier.
The main protection to the ship — a prime enemy target in times of combat — will however be its point defence missile system (PDMS) that will take care of incoming missile as well as aircraft and drone attacks. However, the Long Range Surface to Air Missile (LRSAM) system — a joint collaboration between the Navy, Israel and DRDO — has been running behind time, forcing the Navy to look for options.
“Various studies are on to find what can be provided to the ship. We are looking at different systems that will meet our requirements,” a senior Navy officer said. He added that the systems under consideration include the LRSAM in case it progresses satisfactorily or the Russian STIHL air defence system that had been on offer by Moscow for the past few years.
The top officer, who is directly involved in the project, also said the future Indo-French ‘Maitri’ Short Range Surface to Air Missiles (SR SAM) systems would also be under consideration for fitment on board the warship.
The officer however conceded any sort of missile defence system on the aircraft carrier would take at least three years to be installed, given that it can only be done once the ship is dry docked for its first major refit.
While officials say the carrier will not be vulnerable to air threats due to the mix of warships that will accompany it on all deployments, aircraft carriers across the world carry their own set of air defence systems as the last resort measure against incoming missiles and aircraft. Even INS Viraat has the Barack air defence missile systems as well as anti-aircraft guns for close-in defence.
INS Vikramaditya is operational but would be fully combat ready once more fighter pilots are trained for deck operations.