Explainer: Why Vikrant’s induction is a watershed moment for Indian Navy

Aug 31, 2022 04:05 PM IST

With INS Vikrant, India joins a select league of countries that have indigenously designed and built an aircraft carrier. Ahead of its commissioning ceremony, HT gives you the lowdown on the aircraft carrier that is set to dominate the seas

New Delhi: When Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi reaches Cochin Shipyard on September 2 to commission aircraft carrier Vikrant, the first thing to strike him about India’s newest warship is likely to be its sheer size — displacing 45,000 tonnes and 262 metres long, the largest warship to be built in India houses 15 decks, 2,300 compartments, has enough room for 30 aircraft, a crew of 1,600 and has an endurance of 7,500 nautical miles.

Deck scrub on board aircraft carrier Vikrant. (Rahul Singh/HT File Photo) PREMIUM
Deck scrub on board aircraft carrier Vikrant. (Rahul Singh/HT File Photo)

If Vikrant, which will get the coveted (Indian Naval Ship) INS prefix on commissioning, will strengthen India’s deterrence against its adversaries and significantly boost the country’s naval presence, reach and stature, the landmark induction of the aircraft carrier into the Indian Navy will also highlight the advances in indigenous warship design and construction in the 75th year of Independence.

From building small craft in the 60s and frigates in the 80s to destroyers in the 90s and now an indigenous aircraft carrier, India has come a long way and set new goals for self-reliance to build a world-class military.

Ahead of Vikrant’s highly-anticipated commissioning ceremony at which the PM will also unveil the navy’s new ensign without the Cross of St George — a colonial relic, Hindustan Times gives you the lowdown on the aircraft carrier that is set to dominate the seas — flying the new naval ensign:

Which aircraft will Vikrant carry?

Vikrant will operate an air wing consisting of 30 aircraft including new deck-based fighters that India plans to buy, Russian-origin MiG-29Ks, Kamov-31 choppers, MH-60R multi-role helicopters and advanced light helicopters. India plans to buy 26 new fighters for Vikrant through a government-to-government deal, with US firm Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet competing with French aircraft maker Dassault Aviation’s Rafale-M for the order. These fighters will only be stopgap as the indigenous twin engine deck-based fighter (TEDBF), which is expected to be ready in a few years, will be the final carrier-based fighter for the navy.

How big is Vikrant’s flight deck?

The sprawling flight deck measures 12,500 square metres – that’s the same as 2.5 hockey fields or 10 Olympic-size swimming pools. Critical flight trials will be conducted aboard the aircraft carrier from November, and the warship is expected to be fully operational by the middle of next year. The trials, a top priority for the navy, will involve the MiG-29K fighter jets that will use the ski-jump to take off from Vikrant and will be recovered by arrestor wires or what is known as STOBAR (short takeoff but arrested recovery) in navy parlance. Vikrant hasn’t thus far operated a fighter jet from its flight deck.

How long has India been operating aircraft carriers?

The Indian Navy has been operating aircraft carriers for decades. Vikrant will be the fourth aircraft carrier to be operated by the Indian Navy after the first INS Vikrant (of British origin) from 1961 to 1997, INS Viraat (of British origin) from 1987 to 2016 and INS Vikramaditya (of Russian-origin) from 2013 onwards. It is named after India’s first aircraft carrier, and was built at Cochin Shipyard at a cost of 20,000 crore. INS Vikramaditya was bought second-hand from Russia for $2.33 billion. The navy has been arguing it needs three such floating airfields given its vast area of interest.

Will the navy get a third aircraft carrier?

The navy is pushing a case for building a second indigenous aircraft carrier, though the government will take a final call on that capability enhancement. The navy believes the second carrier can be built faster than Vikrant by tapping into the ship-building experience and expertise acquired though the construction of the first carrier. Vikrant’s construction began in 2009. The navy is in discussions with the government and the defence ministry to build another aircraft carrier in India. By 2024, a new large dry dock will be ready at the Cochin shipyard for constructing even bigger platforms.

How many countries have built aircraft carriers?

India is the sixth country in the world to have indigenously designed and built an aircraft carrier with a displacement of more than 40,000 tonnes. It is now in a select league consisting of the US, the UK, Russia, France and China. Vikrant will be commissioned into the navy on the back of China launching its third aircraft carrier — the first designed and built entirely in that country. The launch of the new carrier, Fujian, on June 17 came against the backdrop of China’s push for greater maritime influence in the far seas. A warship’s launch refers to the vessel entering the water for the first time. China currently operates two aircraft carriers — CV-16 Liaoning and CV-17 Shandong.

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