India’s first indigenously designed and built aircraft carrier began sea trials off the coast of Kochi on Wednesday. The landmark achievement puts India in an exclusive list of a handful of nations that have the capability to manufacture these most powerful of naval vessels.
The Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC) will carry the name INS Vikrant — the same as the Indian Navy’s first aircraft carrier that was decommissioned in 1997 after more than 35 years of service — once it is commissioned next year.
The “reincarnated Vikrant (IAC) sailed for her maiden sea trials today, in the 50th year of her illustrious predecessor’s key role in victory in the 1971 war”, the Navy said in a statement celebrating a “proud and historic day for India”.
Sea trials of India’s first indigenously designed and manufactured Aircraft Carrier, Vikrant begin today. To be commissioned next year, this will become India’s second Aircraft Carrier in service. At the moment India only has INS Vikramaditya. @IndianExpress pic.twitter.com/dEJ5vxaZjv
— Krishn Kaushik (@Krishn_) August 4, 2021
The IAC, it said, is the “largest and most complex warship ever to be designed and built in India”, and a significant achievement in “our quest for Atmanirbhar Bharat and Make in India initiative”.
“With the building of Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC), India joins select group of nations having niche capability to indigenously design, build and integrate a state of art Aircraft Carrier,” the Navy said.
The keel of the 40,000-tonne warship was laid in February 2009, and it was floated out at Cochin Shipyard Ltd (CSL), which has built it, in December 2011. Basin trials were completed in November 2020, and the vessel is expected to be commissioned into the Navy by August 2022.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh visited CSL in June to review the progress of the nearly Rs-23,000-crore project.
According to the Navy, IAC-1, as the warship will be called until its commissioning, will operate the Russian-built MiG-29K fighter aircraft and Kamov-31 air early warning helicopters; the indigenously manufactured Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH); and the soon-to-be-inducted MH-60R multirole helicopters manufactured by Lockheed Martin.
Once it is commissioned, INS Vikrant will join the Russian-origin INS Vikramaditya, at present India’s sole aircraft carrier. While the Navy has been pushing for another warship, the government is still weighing the demand. China is expected to have five carriers by the end of this decade.
India’s sole aircraft carrier at the moment is the Russian-origin INS Vikramaditya, which entered service in 2013. The Navy is looking at deploying 36 multirole fighter aircraft that will cater to both the Vikramaditya and the new Vikrant.
The Navy has also been pushing for a bigger, 65,000-tonne warship, but the government is still weighing the need for a third aircraft carrier. The Navy feels a third carrier is an operational necessity — Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Karambir Singh had said on Navy Day (December 3) last year that the Navy did not want to stay “tethered to the shore”, and “air power at sea is absolutely required”.
“The Navy is all about reach and sustenance. If you, as a nation, that is aspirational…you will have to go outwards, seek the world, you will have to move out… And for that you require air power, and you require it at longer ranges, aircraft carrier is absolutely necessary,” Admiral Singh said.
However, Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, who is mandated to prioritise defence acquisition among the armed forces, has said on more than one occasion that while aircraft carriers can be high-value targets for enemies, the islands of Lakshadweep and Andaman & Nicobar can be developed as “unsinkable” carriers.
China has two serving aircraft carriers and is building a third. It is expected to have five carriers by the end of this decade.