Tucked away in a new defense deal with India was an agreement for the U.S. to aid India in fielding aircraft carriers that China views as a threat.
As part of a Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) signed by President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday, the U.S. agreed to “form a working group to explore aircraft carrier technology sharing and design.”
Under the agreement, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that “we will begin to realize the enormous potential of the U.S.-India defense industrial partnership. We have further strengthened this partnership with an agreement that will allow us to continue science and technology collaboration for the next 15 years.”
India launched its first domestically-built carrier in 2013 – the 40,000 ton, conventionally-powered Vikrant – which is still undergoing development at the Cochin shipyard in southern India.
At the time of the Vikrant’s launch, China denied that there was an “arms race” with India but the Communist party newspaper Global Times noted that “the earlier China establishes its own aircraft carrier capabilities, the earlier it will gain the strategic initiative. Even India has moved ahead of us.”
China’s first and only aircraft carrier, the rebuilt and problem-plagued Liaoning, was originally the Russian navy’s Varyag. The ship’s ownership was transferred to Ukraine and then bought by China. China reportedly has long-range plans to build three nuclear carriers.
In a commentary, the Chinese news agency Xinhua scoffed at the deal between the U.S. and India to strengthen India’s defense-industrial base and aid in carrier development and operations.
“For one thing, Obama's ‘Pivot to Asia’ policy has been distracted or even derailed by the undying conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine,” the commentary said. “He (Obama) needs this trip to tell the Capitol Hill and his supporters that his administration can make progress on important relations. More frankly, he needs India to side with him.”
The Times of India reported that the U.S. has agreed to aid India in developing electro-magnetic launch systems for the Vikrant’s aircraft.
India was also planning to construct a much larger carrier of 65,000 tons to be called the Vishal, which could be nuclear powered, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.