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India Seeks US Know-How for New Aircraft Carrier

Defense Secretary Carter and India's Minister of Defense Manohar Parrikar, left, inspect a jet engine in the hanger deck of the USS Eisenhower off the coast of Virginia, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015. (Mark Wilson/Pool Photo via AP)
Defense Secretary Carter and India's Minister of Defense Manohar Parrikar, left, inspect a jet engine in the hanger deck of the USS Eisenhower off the coast of Virginia, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015. (Mark Wilson/Pool Photo via AP)

The first top Indian official to board a U.S. aircraft carrier checked out flight operations and aircraft engines on the Eisenhower to take back lessons learned for the carrier India is building partly to offset China's rise in the Pacific.

Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar, an engineer by training, called his "fantastic" visit to the "Ike" Thursday with Defense Secretary Ashton Carter a boon to the growing defense industry partnerships and military-to-military relationships between the U.S. and India, as the U.S. shifts forces to the Pacific.

Parrikar watched takeoffs and landings aboard the Ike and later went below decks to inspect the jet engines which India is seeking to acquire under new trade initiatives.

India has also shown interest in the EMALs (Electro-magnetic Aircraft Launch Systems), which is designed to replace the steam catapault launch systems now in use on U.S. carriers.

The EMALs system is projected for installation on the USS Gerald Ford, the newest Navy carrier which has been beset by cost overruns and design problems. EMALs is now being tested at a land-based facility in Lakehurst, N.J.

Last June, the General Atomics EMALs system failed in its first public test run with a weighted sled aboard the Ford. After several successful dry runs, the launch officer pressed the launch button and nothing happened, the Navy Times reported.

Capt. John Meier, the Ford's skipper, said at the time that "I'm certainly not disappointed in where we are in the test program. I think that what we have today is a minor setback to the test program."

EMALS, at least on paper, would be more durable and cheaper to operate than the current steam catapaults, according to the Navy.

Aboard the Eisenhower Thursday, "We could experience the technology and the speed at which things can be done" in carrier operations, which India hopes to emulate on its new carrier, the INS Vikrant, Parrikar said.

The Vikrant is scheduled to be delivered to the Indian navy in 2018. The 40,000-ton Vikrant would allow India to join the U.S., Britain, France and Russia as the only nations to design and build a carrier independently.

China's only aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, is a converted Soviet version called the Varyag with a ski-jump prow to launch aircraft. China reportedly is in the first stages of building its own first carrier at the Dalian shipyard, which converted the Varyag, according to the U.S. Naval Institute.

At a Pentagon news conference before going to the Eisenhower, Carter and Parrikar said their discussions focused on the co-production and co-development of defense systems, with U.S. companies increasingly setting up shop in India in partner relationships.

Carter noted the progress on "cooperation on jet engines, and aircraft carrier design and construction, as well as opportunities to collaborate on additional projects."

Carter also stressed the increasing military engagements with India, including the annual Malabar naval exercise later this month and India's participation next year in the Rim of the Pacific multi-nation naval exercise in Hawaii.

For the first time in eight years, India will also be participating next year in the Red Flag air-to-air combat exercises at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

The U.S. and India were seeking to blend two ‘complementary initiatives," Carter said -- India's "Make in India" policy, the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative, and India's "Act East" policy, with "American's rebalance to the Asia-Pacific."

The cooperation would have been unthinkable in the past when India was more aligned with the Soviets but "our relations have grown stronger" under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Obama, Parrikar said.

India now "is conducting more military exercises with U.S. than any other country," Parrikar said, and was seeking to expand current joint activities.

In addition to being the first Indian Defense Minister to board a U.S. aircraft carrier, Parrikar also used his eight-day stay in the U.S. to become the first Indian Defense Minister to visit the headquarters of U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii. While in Hawaii, Parrikar earlier this week participated in the Pearl Harbor anniversary ceremonies.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at richard.sisk@military.com

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