Wind in the sail: On INS Vikrant

INS Vikrant is a milestone for India; the focus now must be on a twin-engine deck-based fighter 

September 03, 2022 12:10 am | Updated 12:59 pm IST

India commissioned its first indigenously designed and built aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, on Friday and joined a small group of countries which include the U.S., the U.K., Russia, France and China, that have the capability to design and build carriers with a displacement of over 40,000 tonnes. What India has demonstrated is the capacity to develop a carrier although it has been operating these ships for over 60 years. It took 17 years from the time the steel was cut and around ₹20,000 crore to make Vikrant a reality. Developing a viable domestic defence industry has been a priority for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the new aircraft carrier is a sign of India’s expanding atmanirbharta or self-reliance in defence. The new vessel has 76% of indigenous content overall but its critical technology has been imported, pointing to the need for persistence. The carrier in itself is an engineering marvel with an endurance of 7,500 nautical miles. It has around 2,200 compartments for a crew of around 1,600 that include specialised cabins to accommodate women officers and sailors, and a full-fledged speciality medical facility. Several technological spin-offs from the ship’s construction include the capacity to manufacture warship-grade steel, which India used to import. Its commissioning gives India and its emerging defence manufacturing sector the confidence to aim and sail farther.

The Indian Navy’s ambition is to have three aircraft carriers — it already has INS Vikramadityaprocured from Russia — and it has suggested that the expertise gained from building Vikrant could now be used to build a second, more capable, indigenous carrier. INS Vikrant will be the wind in the sail for India’s proactive maritime strategy in the Indo-Pacific and the Indian Ocean Region. At the commissioning ceremony in Kochi, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh reiterated India’s interest in “a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific” and Mr. Modi’s idea of ‘SAGAR’ or Security and Growth for All in the Region. A strong Navy is also critical to India’s ambition to grow its share in global trade, which is largely maritime — INS Vikrant significantly expands the Indian Navy’s footprint in the backdrop of increasing Chinese activity in the region and New Delhi’s closer cooperation with the U.S. While MiG-29K fighter jets will now be integrated into the fleet air arm of Vikrant, the Navy has taken an active interest in procuring either the French Rafale M or the American F/A-18 Super Hornet. This would need structural modifications in the ship which would allow operating these more capable aircraft from its deck. Meanwhile, the plans to develop India’s own twin-engine deck-based fighter continue to remain a distant dream. The focus, and priority now, should be in resolving the fighter jet conundrum while also taking a call on the second indigenous aircraft carrier to ensure that the expertise gained is not jettisoned due to strategic myopia.

To read this editorial in Tamil, click here.

To read this editorial in Hindi, click here.

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