India and the U.S. may not have signed the Logistics Support Agreement as planned during Defence Secretary Ashton Carter’s visit early this week but both sides are close to finalising an Information Exchange Agreement (IEA) on aircraft carrier technologies, as well as cooperation on air wing operations for carrier Vikrant under construction at Kochi.
The IEA will formalise the exact technology that the U.S. will share and at what classification level, design side, operations among other things, a senior U.S. Admiral said. Both sides had already signed the Terms of Reference on June 17, 2015 during the first meeting of the India-U.S. Joint Working Group (JWG) on carrier technology cooperation.
“We provided them a draft when I visited them in February and it is going through the necessary channels of the Indian government to make sure you are ok with it. We are very close,” said Rear Admiral Tom Moore in an exclusive interview to The Hindu , in the US capital late last month. He is the U.S. Navy’s Program Executive Officer for Aircraft Carriers, and the Co-chair of the JWG. From the Indian side it is chaired by Vice Admiral G.S. Pubby, Controller for Warship Production and Acquisition.
“It is a necessary document to take the next step. We have made a lot of progress over the last year,” he noted.
EMALS technology Once the IEA is in place a case will be put under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme of the U.S. government under which the Electro Magnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) technology will be sold to India, if the Navy decides to buy it. The IEA found mention in the joint statement issued after talks between Mr. Carter and his Indian counterpart Manohar Parrikar.
India and the U.S. agreed to cooperate on aircraft carrier technologies as part of six “path-finder” projects under the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative during President Barack Obama’s visit to India in January last year.
Consequently the JWG was set up to explore possibility of installing the Electro Magnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) under development by General Atomics on India’s second Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC-II) which is currently on the drawing board.
On the future roadmap of the JWG, Rear Adm Moore said that the US is currently engaged in a formal process of reviews required as per their law covering high technology sales to other countries and stated, “We are in the stage of looking into that and expect to finish that in the next 6-8 months which will allow us to come to a decision on sharing the technology.”
Meanwhile the Indian Navy too is carrying out a feasibility study to determine the characteristics of the carrier like propulsion, kind of aircraft and type of launch mechanism for which EMALS is under consideration. The Navy intends the carrier to be of 65,000 tons.
Cooperation on Vikrant
In addition to EMALS, the IEA has an agreement for cooperation on air wing operations for the first IAC - Vikrant which is currently in an advanced stage of construction and is on course to begin sea trials by September 2017 and aviation trials after December 2018.
Mr. Moore stated that there is a detailed process for testing, certification and delivery. “We can hold discussions on certifying the flight deck, testing and so on as you are doing it for the first time,” he said.
The third meeting of the Carrier Working Group is scheduled this summer around July in the US. “IEA will be done by then,” Mr. Moore added.
The US Navy has also offered courses related to carrier operations to Indian navy personnel at their Defence Acquisition University. The Indian side is currently reviewing the course catalogue and a decision is expected shortly.