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India’s strategic vision has long included the development of a formidable naval presence to secure its vast maritime interests. Central to this vision is the construction of a third aircraft carrier, the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier-3 (IAC-3), a proposed 65,000-tonne behemoth capable of housing 54 fighters. As India debates the specifics of IAC-3, the idea of making it nuclear-powered and equipping it with electromagnetic catapults has emerged as a crucial consideration. Here are the compelling reasons why India should proceed with a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

One of the most significant advantages of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier is its virtually unlimited operational range and endurance. Unlike conventional carriers that require frequent refueling, a nuclear-powered vessel can operate for years without refueling. This capability is particularly vital for India, given its extensive coastline and the need to project power across the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). A nuclear-powered carrier would ensure sustained maritime presence, enhancing India’s ability to conduct prolonged operations far from its shores.

China’s rapid naval modernization poses a growing challenge to India’s maritime dominance in the IOR. The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is reportedly developing its fourth aircraft carrier, which may be nuclear-powered. If this materializes, China will join the United States in operating ‘supercarriers,’ which are larger and more advanced than conventional carriers. To maintain strategic parity and deter Chinese maritime ambitions, India must similarly invest in advanced carrier technology. A nuclear-powered IAC-3 equipped with electromagnetic catapults would signify a technological leap, matching the capabilities of its regional rival and reinforcing India’s status as a major naval power.

The proposed electromagnetic catapult system (EMALS) for IAC-3 would enhance its operational effectiveness by allowing the launch of heavier and more diverse aircraft. EMALS can accommodate a broader range of aircraft, including heavier fighters, surveillance aircraft, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), thereby expanding the carrier’s air wing capabilities.

While the initial investment for a nuclear-powered carrier is higher than that of a conventionally powered one, the long-term operational costs can be significantly lower. The reduced need for refueling and the enhanced operational availability translate into cost savings over the carrier’s lifecycle. Additionally, the strategic advantages and extended deployment capabilities can offset the higher upfront costs by ensuring a continuous and robust naval presence, which is essential for protecting national interests and maintaining regional stability.

Nuclear-powered carriers produce no air pollution during operation, making them more environmentally friendly than their conventionally powered counterparts. This aligns with global efforts to reduce carbon footprints and promotes India’s commitment to environmental sustainability. Moreover, the logistical challenges associated with refueling at sea are eliminated, simplifying supply chains and reducing the vulnerability associated with fuel convoys.

Developing a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier would stimulate advancements in India’s indigenous technological and industrial capabilities. It would involve complex engineering, nuclear technology, and advanced shipbuilding techniques, fostering innovation and expertise within the country. This self-reliance aligns with India’s broader strategic goal of achieving technological sovereignty and reducing dependency on foreign defense imports.