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INS Vikrant: India’s New Aircraft Carrier Has Arrived

INS Vikrant
Image: Creative Commons.

The Indian Navy has a new flagship, as the Cochin Shipyard Ltd. (CSL) officially handed over the first Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC-1) Vikrant on Thursday. The carrier, which was designed by the Indian Navy’s in-house Directorate of Naval Design, will reportedly be commissioned on August 15.

She is the second carrier to bear the name after the original Indian Naval Ship (INS) Vikrant, which had been laid down as the HMS Hercules for the UK’s Royal Navy during World War II. While not finished when the conflict ended in 1945, India purchased the incomplete carrier in 1957, and construction was finally finished in 1961. The earlier Vikrant was the first aircraft carrier of the Indian Navy, and subsequently played a key role in enforcing the blockade of East Pakistan (today Bangladesh) during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971.

The new carrier – at 262 meters in length and with a full displacement of close to 45,000 tonnes (49,600 tons) – is far larger and significantly more advanced than her predecessor. She is powered by four gas turbines totaling 88 MW power and has a maximum speed of 28 knots. Using a novel aircraft-operation mode known as STOBAR (short take-off but arrested landing), the IAC is equipped with a ski-jump for launching aircraft and a set of ‘arrester wires’ for their recovery on board.

The warship, the largest ever built in India, completed her sea trials earlier this year. She will be initially deployed with the western naval command.

The acceptance form was signed by Madhu S. Nair, CMD of the shipyard, and Commodore Vidhyadhar Harke, Commanding Officer (Designate) of the vessel.

A Symbol of India

Built at an overall cost of close to $3.13 billion under a contract between the defence ministry and the shipyard, the project progressed in three phases ending in May 2007, December 2014, and October 2019 respectively – while her keel was laid in February 2009.

The carrier was built with 76 percent overall indigenous content, and has been seen as an example of the quest of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “AatmaNirbhar Bharat” (Self-reliant India), the umbrella concept for India to play a larger role in the world economy, and for it to become more efficient, competitive, and resilient. With the delivery of Vikrant, India has now joined a very select group of nations that have the capability to indigenously design and build such a warship.

This is a significant moment for India, but also CSL – as the shipyard has previously only been used to service and handle refits of all of the Indian Navy’s warships. Currently, the shipyard is constructing eight anti-submarine warfare shallow water crafts (ASWSWCs), while it also won an order for the construction of six next-generation missile vessels (NGMVs) for the Indian Navy.

In addition, CSL is also augmenting its infrastructure, which includes a new dry dock to cater to the construction of even larger ships, including next-generation aircraft carriers.

Regional Carrier Arms Race

The handover of the IAC-1 comes just weeks after China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) saw the launch of its third aircraft carrier, the Type 003 Fujian in Shanghai. That is the second Chinese domestically-built carrier, and the PLAN currently operates the Type 001 Liaoning, a former Soviet Kiev-class aircraft cruiser that was purchased from Ukraine; and the Type 002 Shandong, which was an indigenously-built copy of the former.

India also operates a modified Kiev-class carrier, the current flagship INS Vikramaditya. Purchased from Russia, she was commissioned in November 2013 and entered service in June 2014.

Even with the launch of its second carrier, there are already discussions on whether India would be served with a third carrier as well – in part to keep pace with the PLAN and its ambitions to maintain a larger presence in the Indo-Pacific region. The other issue is that Vikramaditya isn’t exactly the most reliable vessel. She is showing her age and has suffered from a number of mishaps, including fires.

A third carrier could ensure that two flattops are always operational and can be deployed even when one is undergoing maintenance. It would also be a notable step for New Delhi, as it would mean that the Indian Navy could operate more carriers than the Royal Navy!

At issue is still the cost of such a carrier, especially as the Indian Navy has proposed a third 65,000-ton carrier – larger than its current flattops but still significantly smaller than the Type 003. Even then, it would be the largest warship ever built by the Asian nation. If such a proposed carrier were to be approved, it would be years before it could enter service, yet it could truly make India a major naval force in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.

A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.