On August 4, India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC-1), a freshly minted warship displacing 40,000 tonnes, set out to sea for its maiden set of trials, propelling India to a select group of nations capable of designing and building a complex platform such as this.
It marked a watershed.
The vessel, to be named Vikrant after the first carrier operated by the Indian Navy, is the largest and the most complex platform so far designed by the Directorate of Naval Design, and is slated to join the Navy next year.
It was nothing short of a baptism by fire for the Cochin Shipyard, which built the carrier. While the public sector shipbuilder had built mammoth commercial vessels and taken care of the now-retired Viraat through its lifetime, the IAC-1 offered it a steep learning curve which it thinks will stand it in good stead as the Navy contemplates building a second indigenous carrier.
Having operated two British-origin carriers, Vikrant and Viraat , the Navy wanted to build an air defence ship right from the 1980s but the idea crystallised into a project in the late 1990s. The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) accorded approval for the project in 2002, its keel was laid in 2009 and the financial estimate was revised in 2014.
Roughly about ₹20,000 crore has been spent for the construction of the vessel.
But it led to a giant leap in military shipbuilding in India as it resulted in the development of warship-grade steel indigenously by Steel Authority of India (SAIL) and the Defence Metallurgical Research Laboratory (DMRL) besides capability and skill-development at the shipyard.
The IAC-1 is an advanced platform in comparison with Vikramaditya , the only aircraft carrier in service with the Indian Navy, in terms of capabilities, automation and net-centricity. And its degree of indigenisation is about 76%.
Unlike Vikramaditya , which is steam-propelled, Vikrant is propelled by four gas turbines that were produced by GE but integrated and commissioned by its Indian partner, the public sector Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL). Similarly, the COGAG (combined gas and gas) gear boxes from Germany were integrated by an Indian company named Elecon.
About 550 Indian companies, including about 100 medium and small scale industries (MSME), had a role to play in the construction of the carrier.
The IAC-1 is 262 metres long, 62 metre at its widest part and has a height of 59 metres, including its super structure. Its diesel alternators, eight of them, generate as much as 24 MW power, which is enough to light up an entire city.
The ship has about 2,000 km of cabling, 120 km of piping and 2,300 compartments.
It has 14 decks, including five in the super structure, and will have a complement of a little less than 1,700 personnel. It’s the first ship with purpose-built gender-specific accommodation, as the Navy has begun deploying women officers on board ships. The largest alleyway of the vessel is on the fifth deck, with a length of 240 metres.
The ship can carry up to 30 aircraft, fighter jets and helicopters, and is capable of cruising at 18 knots speed with an endurance of about 7,500 nautical miles. It has a very high degree of automation for machinery operation, ship navigation and survivability.
‘One of the best’
It’s believed that it’s going to have an integral fleet of MiG29-K aircraft, a la Vikaramaditya . The twin-engine deck-based fighter (TEDBF) being developed by HAL could also be part of it. Reports suggest that the dimensions of the elevators which bring the aircraft from the hangar to the flight deck are a little constricted to take on bigger aircraft.
“But it’s our design and a little modification is always possible,” says a naval officer. The carrier will also have Kamov 31 early warning and Kamov 26 anti-submarine warfare helicopters.
It’s not the USS Nimitz for sure, but the IAC-1, equipped as it is with the Barak 8 LR-SAM (long range surface to air missile), the AK-630 close-in-weapon system and the Israeli MF-STAR radar for tracking and fire control, is among the best with self-defence capabilities, says an officer.
“The significance of the IAC-1 is that it has given us a capability that can be built upon,” he says.