The indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC) project hit a critical milestone on Monday, with Vikrant being launched at the state-owned Cochin Shipyard, guaranteeing India a slot in history as the fifth country to have designed and built an aircraft carrier of this size.
The launch ends the first phase of the aircraft carrier's construction, raising the navy's hopes of inducting the biggest warship to be ever built in the country by the end of 2018.
Around 75% of the IAC structure has now been erected. However, the project is running three years behind schedule.
When complete, Vikrant will weigh 37,500 tonnes — only the US, the UK, Russia and France have built carriers of this size. "We have the capability and technology to match the best in the world," defence minister AK Antony said at the launch ceremony. It has been named after aircraft carrier INS Vikrant operated by the navy from 1961 to 1997.
Major outfitting work is expected to be finished by 2016, followed by extensive sea trials for two years, said Vice Admiral KR Nair, who oversees the navy's warship production and acquisition programmes.
The navy plans to deploy two carrier battle groups (CSGs) — one for each sea board — by 2018 when India's sole aircraft carrier INS Viraat will retire after nearly 60 years in service.
The 45,000-tonne INS Vikramaditya (formerly Gorshkov), currently undergoing trials in the Barents Sea, is likely to be commissioned in the navy this December. That aircraft carrier has been bought from Russia for $2.33 billion (R13,980 crore).
The 45 MiG-29K fighters being bought from Russia for more than $2 billion (R12,000 crore), will be embarked on INS Vikramaditya and Vikrant.
The navy has created an aircraft carrier setting on the ground in Goa to operate the 16 MiG-29K fighters already inducted, since INS Vikramaditya is arriving more than five years behind schedule.
The shore-based test facility in Goa will also serve as a platform for carrying out carrier compatibility tests for the light combat aircraft's navy variant, which will be embarked on Vikrant.
These aircraft carriers will be sovereign Indian territory that can sail anywhere in international waters.