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INS Vikrant: Did India Waste Billions on This New Aircraft Carrier?

Aircraft Carrier
INS Vikrant Aircraft Carrier. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Earlier this month, India was seen to join an “elite league of world naval powers,” when it commissioned its first domestically-built aircraft carrier, its new flagship INS Vikrant. However, it wasn’t India’s first flattop, as the Asian nation has operated carriers for more than 60 years.

In fact, in 1961, India became the first so-called “third world” nation to acquire and operate an aircraft carrier when it purchased a retired Royal Navy Majestic-class carrier, which was re-commissioned as the first INS Vikrant – meaning “courageous” in Sanskrit. That ship went on to play a crucial role in the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War when it was used during a blockade on all shipping between the eastern and western parts of Pakistan.

The new INS Vikrant won’t enter service for another 12 to 18 months, but it is already seen as a key component of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s campaign for self-reliance in defense manufacturing. Vikrant will serve alongside INS Vikramaditya, a modified Kiev-class aircraft cruiser that had served with the Soviet Navy, and which was sold to India following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The two carriers will allow India to increase its force projection in the Indo-Pacific region, notably the Indian Ocean – and most importantly to deter China from challenging it in what is essentially New Delhi’s “maritime backyard.”

INS Vikrant: Expensive Vanity Project?

Some are already questioning whether the carrier is simply an expensive vanity project. The total cost of the INS Vikrant was nearly $3 billion. 

It is significantly smaller than the Type 003 Fujian, Beijing’s newest carrier. It is thus more on par with the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Type 002 Shandong – as both are essentially little more than modified Soviet-era designs built in distant lands. The Indian carrier also took years to develop and was delayed for nearly a decade due to cost issues. Her keel was laid down in 2009, and it took nearly 13 years for her to be completed. As a result of those delays, much of its technology is on the verge of obsolescence – and the warship hasn’t even entered service!

The Indian carrier is widely seen as an entire generation behind China’s latest carrier. That includes its use of a ski-jump system, which requires that jets take off under their own power. That in turn limits the amount of fuel, missiles, and bombs the jets can carry.

Another issue is that India still lacks a modern aircraft to operate from its carrier. It has continued to rely on the Russian-built MiG-28K/KUB, of which just a few are in service.

Why INS Vikrant Is An Important Stepping Stone

However, much like China’s Shandong, Vikrant could be seen as an important stepping stone as it allowed local designers to develop their own ideas and start to think independently. India has a lot of catching up to do, and unfortunately for New Delhi, China has proven to be much more robust in designing such huge warships.

To truly deter China, India needs to think not about the Vikrant, but rather about its next carrier. Currently, there is a debate raging in New Delhi over the proposed Indigenous Aircraft Carrier 2 (IAC-2) INS Vishal, which could be significantly larger in size and displacement. It could also be equipped with an Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) CATOBAR system is also under consideration. Some in the Indian government see it as another expensive vanity project.

INS Vikrant

INS Vikrant. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Vishal, which means “grand” in Sanskrit, would be truly a grand warship – but that might be what India truly requires if it is to be a regional naval power that can stand up to Beijing’s ambitions.

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.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. GhostTomahawk

    September 29, 2022 at 6:50 pm

    Maybe instead of spending billions on scrapping old carriers the US could sell them to our geo political allies. This way they’re not buying old Soviet garbage.. this strategy would help fund OUR procurement of new naval vessels.

  2. 403Forbidden

    September 29, 2022 at 9:23 pm

    We’re entering the age of hypersonic gliders, hypersonic cruise missiles, poseidon underwater drones equipped with thunderclap warheads and FOBS decapitating systems, why the hell are nations still pursuing aircraft carriers.

    Instead of carriers, countries wanting to defend themselves should build VLDs or ULDs capable of carrying combat drones and conventional SRBMs.

    Such vessels are more survivable than carriers, less expensive to operate and a loss of one more easily acceptable or tolerable.

    VLDs or ULDs are also more practical for ramming and chasing intruders near your waters. Time to build them and forget about aircraft carriers which are just a waste of money !

  3. pagar

    September 29, 2022 at 11:30 pm

    In early december 1941 the famed kido butai (then the most powerful carrier strike force in the world thanks to brit naval aviation tech & their 1921 sempill mission) whacked pearl harbor and ignited great pacific war.

    The kido butai set sailed from hittokapu bay which is now part of russia in late november 1941 for the infamous strike, a move totally undetected by US naval intelligence.

    Supposing US intelligence had been in the know right from the very first puffs of smoke from the moving funnels, US Navy would only be able to gather at most 3 opposing carriers to fight kido butai.

    It would be an uneven fight.

    Fast forward to today, 21st century. Supposing an ultra modern kido butai approaches ya maritime backyard to inflict massive hurt on ya, what would ya do.

    Oppose that modern ultra mega super butai with ya 2 or 3 carriers ???

    Pfft, ya pipsqueak carrier opposition would at most, last ten minutes or twenty, in the clash.

    Ideal solution to oppose mega ultra super butais of today would be fast vessels armed with drones, recce jets, dual purpose hypersonic strike missiles and vertically-launched ballistic missiles that can execute mid-flight maneuvers to throw off interceptors.

    With such vessels, ultra mega super butais will have to think twice before moving into ya maritime backyard.

  4. Harold

    September 30, 2022 at 2:52 am

    I think people forget that aircraft carriers are a symbol of soft power projection as much as they are hard.

    With this carrier, India has shown it has the ability to indigenously build (albeit with some foreign technology and materials), a warship that is modern, capable, and over 45,000 tonnes. Not to mention help develop dry docks, shipbuilding capabilities and knowledge that will stay.

    Of course against a modern navy, there is negatives. But imagine they get their contingent of 18-40 F/A-18 super hornets or Rafale-M carrier jets. They have the ability to launch fighter jets much furthee than ant of their mainland airbases.

    Imagine if Russia had even this type of aircraft carrier available in Ukraine versus it being near unusable in dry dock right now. India’s primaey naval concerns are Pakistan, China in the Indian Ocean, and piracy in the middle east. All of which this carrier can deal with. The next aircraft carrier they are looking at is possibly going to be 60,000-65,000 tonnes and possible catapult aka CATOBAR if not EMALS launch.

    I agree that India should rapidly refocus to have a modern submarine attack and also long range nuclear second strike capability next before another carrier.

  5. Jacksonian Libertarian

    September 30, 2022 at 5:26 am

    Surface warships are obsolete in the age of smart weapons.

    The US should sell 1/2 of its surface warships including the flat tops (the older ones of course), to its allies for bargain prices.

    It should then buy thousands of UAVs, and a couple of hundred small (1,000t-2,000t) non-nuclear utility, cargo, and amphibious submarines. In particular the US needs an amphibious sub that can crawl up on a beach and roll-on roll-off Marine forces. It also needs a sub that can service drones (sea-air) in contested areas.

  6. Skyring

    September 30, 2022 at 7:13 am

    What the hell is wrong with you people? Two different carriers labelled as the same ship, one image reversed to show the island apparently on the port side. Sheesh!

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