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EXPLAINED: Why Indigenous Aircraft Carrier INS Vikrant Puts India In Select Group Of Nations

INS Vikrant, which is expected to be inducted into the Indian Navy later this year, has completed its third sea trials. (Photo: Twitter, via @DefencePROkochi)

INS Vikrant, which is expected to be inducted into the Indian Navy later this year, has completed its third sea trials. (Photo: Twitter, via @DefencePROkochi)

Globally, just a handful of countries have the ability to execute the design and construction of a state-of-the-art aircraft carrier

It’s the “largest and most complex warship built in the country” and has just concluded a third round of sea trials ahead of its planned induction later this year. Sharing its name with an earlier vessel that had a storied career with the Indian Navy, the INS Vikrant propels the country into a select group of nations that have been able to master the knowhow to produce their own aircraft carriers. Here’s what you need to know.

What Did The Latest Trials Involve?

A defence official said in a tweet on January 17 that the INS Vikrant had “returned after completing 3rd Sea Trials”, days after it was reported to have embarked on its latest round of tests on January 9.

Known as Indigenous Aircraft Carrier, or IAC-1, it will be christened INS Vikrant when it enters service, reportedly in August this year.

The official said that the latest trials saw the testing of a large number of equipment and the various systems fitted onboard with the data to now be “analysed with mandatory inspections & balance work on the ship”.

The aircraft carrier had successfully completed a five-day maiden sea voyage in August last year and then undergone a 10-day sea trial in October. Ahead of its third sea trial, a navy spokesperson had said that it was sailing to “undertake complex manoeuvres to establish specific readings of how the ship performs in various conditions”.

Reports say that the maiden sea trials had looked at the ship’s propulsion, navigational suite and basic operations while the second run comprised machinery and flight trials.

How Big Is The INS Vikrant?

Stretching to 262m, the IAC-1 in its length exceeds that of two football fields and is 62m wide. Its height of 59m packs in 14 decks in all and the vessel features over 2,300 compartments and provides room for a crew of around 1,700 personnel and includes specialised cabins for women officers.

The IAC-1 has a total displacement of 40,000 tonnes and a top speed of around 28 knots (more than 50kmph). It has a cruising speed of 18 knots with an endurance of about 7,500 nautical miles.

How Was It Built?

Construction of the vessel began in 2009 at the Cochin Shipyard Ltd (CSL) and the total cost involved is around Rs 23,000 crore. IAC-1 was designed by the Indian Navy’s Directorate of Naval Design.

Officials have been reported as saying that the “the power used in the ship can light up half of Kochi city” and that all the cables on board run to a total length of 2,600km. Maj. Manoj Kumar, the designer architect of IAC-1, is reported to have shared that the steel used in the ship was equivalent to three Eiffel towers.

“There is a fully functional medical complex inside the ship with two operation theatres. There is a kitchen to cater to the needs of at least 2,000 staff… We can park 20 aircraft in the hangar,” he had told reporters in August 2021.

The ship also contains 150km of pipes and 2,000 valves along with a “wide range of finished products, including rigid hull boats, galley equipment, air-conditioning and refrigeration plants, and steering gear”.

How Indigenous Is It?

According to the Centre, over 76 per cent of the material and equipment on board IAC-1 is indigenous, including “21,500 tonnes of special grade steel developed indigenously and used in Indian Naval Ships for the first time”.

The Union Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways has said that CSL “carried out the detailed engineering of the ship using advanced software which enabled the designer to get a complete 3D view of the compartments of the ship”, representing the “first time in the country that a ship of the size of an aircraft carrier is completely modeled in 3D and production drawings extracted from the 3D model”.

The Indian Navy is reported to have said that over 50 Indian manufacturers were directly involved in the project, which is a result of the labours of more than 40,000 people who were employed directly or indirectly in its construction. More than three-fourths of the total project cost has been ploughed back into the Indian economy, reports add.

Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Southern Naval Command Vice Admiral AK Chawla had said in August last year that the vessel “demonstrates the Indian Navy’s capability to design and oversee the construction of the most complex of warships, as also the capability of our ship-builders and industries to successfully execute such a large and complex ship-building project”.

What Are The Aircraft It Will Carry?

The defence ministry says that IAC-1 has been designed to operate “an assortment of fixed wing and rotary aircraft”. According to the Navy, it will be carrying the Russian-made MiG-29K fighter jet and Kamov-31 early warning helicopters along with the indigenously manufactured Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH) and the MH-60R multirole helicopter made by the American defence major Lockheed Martin.

How Many Aircraft Carriers Does The Indian Navy Operate?

The only operational aircraft carrier with the Indian Navy at present is the INS Vikramaditya, which had served in the erstwhile Soviet and, therefter, the Russian navy as Admiral Gorshkov before being inducted by India in 2013.

The naming of IAC-1, which is to be commissioned as INS Vikrant, is a nod to one of the two earlier aircraft carriers that India operated — the other being INS Viraat — both of which were acquired from the UK and commissioned in 1961 and 1987, respectively. INS Vikrant, which played an important role in the eastern theatre during the 1971 Indo-Pak war was decommissioned in 1997 with INS Viraat sailing having been retired in 2017. Pakistan does not operate any aircraft carriers.

The IAC-1, after its induction, will be a key component of the Indian Navy’s push to establish itself as a ‘blue water’ force, that is, one which has the ability to project its power on distant seas. It is especially important amid India’s bid to be a net security provider in the Indian Ocean region where it faces a strong contender in the form of China, whose navy, too, is heavily focusing on aircraft carriers and has already inducted two vessels.

Globally, only five or six countries are said to have the capability of designing and executing the construction of an aircraft carrier which, experts say, is “considered the most valuable sea-based asset, [offering] an incomparable military instrument with its ability to project tactical air power over long distances”.

An aircraft carrier serves as the lead vessel of what is known as a strike or battle group and being equally valuable and vulnerable, is escorted by a host of other vessels, including destroyers, submarines and supply ships on its outings on the high seas.

Such is the importance of an aircraft carrier that the Indian Navy is said to be seeking the construction of a second indigenous vessel of an even bigger size than INS Vikrant although reports say that the political leadership is still assessing the need for a third aircraft carrier.

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first published:January 17, 2022, 15:46 IST