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Navy hunt for giant aircraft carrier

New Delhi, July 17: The Centre has invited four private companies and five others to respond with an "expression of interest" to build an ambitious aircraft carrier that may be nuclear-powered.

No shipyard in India has so far demonstrated such a capability.

In a letter to the nine - Larsen & Toubro, Pipavav, ABG, Bharati (all in the private sector), Mazgaon Docks, Garden Reach, Goa Shipyard, Hindustan Shipyard and Cochin Shipyard (all in the public sector) - the naval headquarters has circulated a form asking them for their eligibility to build a 65,000-tonne carrier that may be conventional or nuclear-powered.

Only yesterday, Anil Ambani, who recently bought a controlling stake in Pipavav, said he would be investing Rs 5,000 crore in his shipyard.

The letter says that "while approval-in-principle is yet to be issued", the Centre has thought it correct to conduct a feasibility study for the carrier that may be conventional or nuclear-powered.

The navy's Assistant Controller of Carrier Projects, Rear Admiral Surinder Ahuja, is the nodal officer for the study.

The letter says the flight-deck configuration for the proposed carrier should be "CATOBAR" - short for catapult assisted take-off but arrested recovery - while other "modern technology for launch and recovery" will also be considered.

It is this second proviso that could bring the US, which has offered to negotiate the sharing of its latest EMALs - electro-magnetic aircraft launch system - technology into the strategic programme to build India's second aircraft carrier.

India and the US agreed during President Barack Obama's visit in January to set up a joint working group to study EMALs. India's first carrier, called IAC-I (Indigenous Aircraft Carrier) is being built in Kochi. The two carriers the Indian Navy operates, the INS Viraat and the INS Vikramaditya, were imported from the UK and Russia respectively.

The IAC-II, for which the letter has been issued, does not specify but the 65,000-tonne carrier should be able to embark 50 aircraft - 30 fixed-wing and 20 helicopters. The shipyards have been asked to respond with their "expression of interest" by July 21.

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