Security concerns in the Indo-Pacific region and the Indian Ocean had long been ignored, but today this area is a major defence priority of the country, said Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 2, 2022 as he commissioned INS Vikrant, the country’s first indigenous aircraft carrier and the most complex warship ever built.
“Vikrant is a unique reflection of India becoming self-reliant,” he said, adding that his government is working in every direction, from increasing the budget for the Indian Navy to increasing its capability.
The ship is christened after India’s first aircraft carrier Vikrant, which played a vital role in the 1971 war. From 2013 to 2017, the Navy had fielded two aircraft carriers - the erstwhile Viraat acquired from U.K. and the INS Vikramaditya from Russia which is currently in service. Once Vikrant becomes fully operational, Indian Navy will once again be able to deploy two full-fledged carrier groups significantly expanding its footprint across the Indo-Pacific.
“So far, such aircraft carriers were only made by developed countries. India has taken a step towards being a developed country by being part of the league,” said Mr. Modi speaking at the formal commissioning ceremony which saw the presence of several naval veterans who commanded and served on the erstwhile Vikrant. Envoys and Defence Attaches of few countries were also present at the ceremony including Australian High Commissioner Barry O’Farrell, British High Commissioner Alex Ellis and Russian Ambassador Denis Alipov.
Terming INS Vikrant ashuge,the ceremonymassive, vast, distinguished and also very special, Mr. Modi said itis not just a warshipbuta testament to the hard work, talent, influence and commitment of India in the 21st century. “If the goals are distant, the journeys are long, the ocean and the challenges are endless – then India’s answer is Vikrant.”
The Commanding Officer, Capt Vidhyadhar Harke, read the commissioning warrant and the nishaan (ensign) was hoisted as the national anthem was played followed by the breaking of the commissioning pendent. INS Vikrant adorned the new ensign with effect from its commissioning.
The ship with a displacement of 42,800 tonnes was designed by the Navy’s Warship Design Bureau (WDB) and built by Cochin Shipyard Limited (CSL), a public sector shipyard under Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterway.
In line with the prevailing practiceglobally among carrier-operating nations,the aviation trials are expected to commence by November and expected to continue till mid-2023. Officials had statedthatthe carrieris expected to be fully operational by end of next year.
The ship would be capable of operating an air wing of 30 aircraft comprising MiG-29K fighter jets, Kamov-31 early warning helicopters, and MH-60R multi-role helicopters, in addition to indigenously manufactured Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH) and Light Combat Aircraft (LCA-Navy). Fighter aircraft are launched using the Short Take Off But Arrested Recovery (STOBAR) method and INS Vikrant is equipped with a ski-jump for launching aircraft, and a set of three ‘arrester wires’ for their recovery onboard.
The Navy is expected to soon finalise procurement of another carrier-based fighter, between the Boeing F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet and Dassault Aviation Rafale, to operate off its carriers till the indigenous under-development Twin Engine Deck Based Fighter (TEDBF) is available.
The 26,000 tonnes of steel that INS Vikrant is made of is warship-grade, produced for the first time in the country by Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL), in collaboration with Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL) and the Navy. The steel is now being used in the construction of all warships in the country.
Steel cutting began in April 2005, ship’s keel was laid in February 2009 and it was launched into water in August 2013. The 262m long and 62m wide INS Vikrant is powered by four General Electric LM 2500 engines which give it a maximum speed of 28 Knots and endurance of 7500 NM, which means she can make a voyage from Kochi to Brazil without refuelling.
The ship has around 2,200 compartments, designed for a crew of around 1,600 that include specialised cabins to accommodate women officers and sailors.
Vikrant is the first ship in the Navy and the country which has a 64 slice CT scan machine onboard, in addition to ultrasound and digital X-ray machines and two purpose-built operation theatres.The ship’s reverse osmosis plants produce over four lakh litres of water every day.
The carrier has a large number of indigenous equipment and machinery and the indigenisation efforts have also led to development of ancillary industries, besides generation of employment opportunities for 2,000 CSL staff and about 13,000 employees in ancillary industries.
Globally, there is renewed push by major powers to deploy aircraft carriers despite the growing threats to big surface platforms from missiles and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). While the U.S. is fielding new generation of super carriers, U.K. has fielded new carriers while Japan is converting its helicopter carriers to operate F-35 fighter jets. China which is on a massive maritime modernisation spree, presently operates two carriers, and has launched a third carrier, Fujian, into water in June this year.