India launches new aircraft carrier as China concerns grow
By Ashok Sharma, AP
India commissioned its first home-built aircraft carrier Friday as it seeks to counter regional rival China’s much larger and growing fleet, and expand its own indigenous shipbuilding capabilities.
The INS Vikrant, whose name is a Sanskrit word for “powerful” or “courageous,” is India’s second operational aircraft carrier, joining the Soviet-era INS Vikramaditya that it purchased from Russia in 2004 to defend the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal.
The new 262-meter (860-foot) carrier, designed by the Indian Navy and built at the Cochin shipyard in southern India, was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as part of the country’s commemoration of 75 years of independence from British rule.
More than just adding to the country’s naval capabilities, Modi stressed the importance of India now being only one of a handful of nations with an indigenous carrier program.
“It’s a historic day and landmark achievement,” Modi said. “It’s an example of the government’s thrust to make India’s defence sector self-reliant.”
The carrier is the largest warship to be built in the country, and can carry a crew of around 1,600 and operate a fleet of 30 aircraft, including fighter jets and helicopters, the Navy said.
More than 75% of India’s new aircraft carrier’s components are indigenously procured, with half a dozen major industrial firms and more than 100 smaller businesses providing equipment and machinery, according to the Defence Ministry.
A delay of six years caused a six-fold price overrun to 200 billion rupees (U.S. $3 billion) at present, according to defence experts.
The 47,400-ton warship will be fully operational by the end of 2023 after first undergoing landing trials with India’s Russian-made MiG-29K fighter aircraft.
India plans to equip the carrier with more than two dozen new fighters, with the Rafale-M from France’s Dassault and the F/A-18 Block III Super Hornet built by American firm Boeing currently under consideration.
Until then it will rely on the Russian aircraft borrowed from India’s only other carrier, said Rahul Bedi, a defence expert.