Amid strains of panchavadyam (orchestra of five instruments) and rendition of Sanskrit “shlokas,” INS Vikrant, India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier, was launched at Cochin Shipyard Limited on Monday, catapulting the country to an elite club of nations that can design and build 40,000-tonne aircraft carriers.

The aircraft carrier was launched by Defence Minister A.K. Antony’s wife Elizabeth Antony. She broke a coconut and christened the warship amid the showering of floral petals and release of Tricolor balloons. Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral D.K. Joshi, Shipping Minister G.K. Vasan, Chairman of Cochin Shipyard Commodore K. Subramaniam and a few Kerala Ministers were present.

The Navy acquired its first aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant in 1961, which played a decisive role in the 1971 India-Pakistan war. It was decommissioned in January 1997. The new Vikrant, which touched water on Monday, will undergo outfitting till 2016. Thereafter, it will go for basin trials and extensive sea trials. It is likely to be commissioned in 2018.

Russia’s Admiral Gorshkov, now named Vikramaditya, is due to join the Navy by the year-end. The Navy already has INS Viraat, 28,000-tonne aircraft carrier. .

“The launching of the indigenous aircraft carrier marks just the first step in a long journey, but at the same time an important one,’’ Mr. Antony said. It was a proud moment for the country in terms of achieving self-reliance in warship design and construction as only a handful advanced countries in the world have such capabilities to build aircraft carriers, he pointed out.

He said the Indian Navy, over the years, had made a distinct shift from a buyer’s navy to a builder’s navy. He urged industry to participate wholeheartedly in shipbuilding programmes. Besides the indigenous aircraft carrier, Cochin Shipyard had orders for 25 ships, consisting of platform support vessels for international clients and fast patrol vessels for the Coast Guard. The achievement of the shipyard reflected the new era of industrial growth in Kerala.

Admiral Joshi lauded the big boost to the Navy in its capabilities, saying 60 per cent of ships and submarines being built for the Navy were being constructed in Indian shipyards. Out of 47 warships, destroyers, and other vessels on order, 46 were being built at defence public sector or private shipyards in the country.

The launch of the indigenous aircraft carrier came within days of the country’s first indigenous nuclear submarine Arihant’s nuclear reactor going critical. This year, the Navy pressed into service P8I aircraft from the U.S. to keep surveillance, and is scheduled to get a Kolkata-class destroyer and a P28 ASW Corvette as well.

The design and construction of Vikrant was sanctioned in January 2003 and the keel was laid on February 28, 2009 by Mr. Antony. “In its construction, 26,000 tonnes of steel plates were used. All requirements were met by SAIL plants, and the plates can withstand good low temperatures and corrosion and have high strength,” said SAIL Chairman C.S. Verma.

Vikrant will be capable of operating a mixture of Russian MiG-29K and Light Combat Aircraft, being developed by HAL. Its helicopter component will include Kamov 31 and the indigenously developed Advanced Light Helicopter. The aircraft carrier will have long-range, surface-to-air missile and close-in weapon system. It will be equipped with the most modern C/D bank early warning radar, tactical air navigational and direction finding systems.

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