INS Vikrant: India's Rise Takes to the Blue Waters
Tarun G James
1 November 2022
The commissioning of its second aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, has placed India in an exclusive league of naval powers. The Vikrant symbolises India’s drive for indigenisation in the defence sector and gives credence to the Indian Navy’s blue-water capabilities.
INS Vikrant, the nation's first home-built aircraft carrier, has formally joined the Indian Navy on August 15 as part of the nation's 75th Independence Day celebration, known as the "Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav." The powerful ship is named after the previous INS Vikrant, a former Royal Navy aircraft carrier that India purchased in 1957, which played a prominent role in 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. The 40,000-tonne, carrier will undoubtedly contribute to the Indian Navy's ambition to become the net security provider for Indian Ocean Region (IOR). The project became a success with nearly seven-year wait time and a six-fold price increase from its original 2003 project sanction of Rs 3,216 crore to over Rs 20,000 crore currently. The commissioning of INS Vikrant.
The newly commissioned Vikrant has beenThe India Government acquired HMS Hercules in 1957 when the navies of countries such as the United States of America(USA) and the United Kingdom (UK), wanted to sell the ships they no longer required. INS Vikrant was crucial in the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971 and proved to be a turning point in it. Her aircrafts destroyed a number of key targets in Bangladeshi cities, notably Cox Bazar and Chittagong. The heroic acts of Vikrant resulted in the formation of Bangladesh. Thus, the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier – 1 (IAC -1) was given the name INS Vikrant.
IAC-1 was conceptualized by the Directorate of Naval Design of the Indian Navy and was constructed at Cochin Shipyard Limited (CSL), a government sector shipyard run by the Ministry of Shipping. The carrier would be sent to the Indian Navy, but it would still be a "inexact" structure that won't be completely operational for another 18 to 20 months, possibly longer. The Ministry of Defence and CSL committed to advance the project in three phases, with each phase's conclusion occurred in May 2007, December 2014, and October 2019, respectively. Keel laying took place in February 2009, later the ship was launched in August 2013. IAC-1, which has a 76 percent overall indigenous content, is a prime example of the country's ambition for "Aatma Nirbhar Bharat" and gives momentum to government's "Make in India" drive.
Compared to its predecessor, the new aircraft carrier is substantially gigantic and more sophisticated. The renewed INS Vikrant is powered by four General Electric (GE) LM2500 gas turbines assembled and tested in India by the Hindustan Aeronautics Pvt. Ltd that produce 88 MegaWatts (MW) of power. It has a capacity of holding at leat 6,000 tonnes of diesel, which each day generates 24 MW of electricity, equals to electricity required in lighting up half of Kochi. The ship’s body is made up of about 23,000 tonnes of warship grade steel. While India had access to a Russian formula on manufacturing military-grade steel in the late-1990s, it was unable to actualise this process. The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO)’s Defence Metallurgical Research Laboratory (DMRL) worked together with the Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) to overcome this shortcoming to manufacture three types of steel equivalent to the steel used in about four Eiffel towers:
DMR 249A variant has been used in the construction of the hull and the body
DMR 249B variant has been employed in building the flight deck, which needs to bear the weight of ski-jump maneouvres.
DMR Z25 variant has been used in flooring for compartments that house heavy equipment such as engines.
The Vikrant can reach a top speed of 28 knots (52 kilometres per hour). It is 262 m in length, 62 m at its widest point, and 59 m in height when the superstructure is included. There is a total of 14 decks, five of which are in the superstructure. The ship contains more than 2,300 compartments, built for a crew of about 1700 people and has specific accommodations for female officers. The INS Vikrant is also said to be equipped with state-of-the-art medical facilities which include an operation theatre and a dental clinic.
INS Vikrant is said to represent a kind of milestone with respect to its pursuit for indigenisation. The Kalam Committee in 1993 had recommended India to reduce dependence other countries for critical subsystems and advised India to reduce dependence on Germany for gearboxes utilised in naval systems. INS Vikrant is said to represent a kind of milestone with respect to India's pursuit for naval indigenisation in this regard. For Vikrant, the gearbox was supplied by Elecon Engineering Company, located in Anand, Gujarat. Meanwhile, the ship’s Combat Management System (CMS), the computer system that performs functions including sensor fusion, weapons control and threat assessment has been developed by the Tata Power Strategic Engineering Division in collaboration with Russia-based company, MARS.
A number of aircraft intended for a variety of purposes can be operated to realise power projection from this floating airbase. According to CRUX report, it can accommodate up to 26 different helicopters and 24 fighter jets.
The MiG29Ks: Built specially to suit the Indian Navy’s requirements, the MiG29Ks constitute the mainstay of Vikrant’s air-fleet herein consists of the MiG-29Ks A true ‘swing role aircraft’, the MiG-29Ks are said to have the ability to simultaneously undertake air dominance and power projection missions. Possessing an air-to-air refueling capacity, it can undertake long range missions
The Kamov-31 helicopters: These are expected to supplement the ship’s radar in helping detect threats over a longer range of upto 200 km in the air, from an altitude of about 9840 feet.
Lockheed Martin MH-360 Romeo multirole helicopters: Termed ‘the most advanced marine multi-mission helicopter currently in use’. It is expected to give India an edge in anti-submarine warfare and can be also engaged in anti-ship strikes.
Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH) Mark III: These indigenously produced helicopters are expected to serve in constabulary roles including maritime reconnaissance and long-range search and rescue.
Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA): An important role is currently being envisioned for this indigenously built fighter which successfully demonstrated its ability to land and take off from INS Vikramaditya on 11 January 2020. However, it is not expected to reach the required levels of operational readiness at least until 2030.
Similar to China’s Shandong and Russia’s Admiral Kuznetsov, Vikrant employs the short-take-off-but-arrested recovery system (STOBAR) which uses a ski jump manoeuvre for launching aircraft and a set of ‘arrester wires’for their retrieval onboard. This unique aircraft-operation mode helps the aircraft gain height quickly as well as touch down easily in a short distance. The CSL is currently working on installing the Long Range Surface to Air Missile (LR-SAM) system, and the MF-STAR (multi-functional digital active electronically scanned array) radar, with the aviation trials set to begin in November 2022. Vikrant is expected to be fully combat-ready by 2023.
Many analysts believe that having an aircraft carrier is necessary for a navy to qualify as a "blue water" navy, or one that can reflect a country's strength and influence across the high seas. India's goals for the area would later increase with the commissioning of IAC Vikrant, which would also help to strengthen its status as a maritime nation in the IOR. The battleship would be a great asset to the Indian Navy as it serves as a moving military base that enhances its surveillance capabilities, enables the deployment of fighter jets, and supports operations for disaster management. With the INS Vikrant, India joins a selective group of countries that have mastered the expertise necessary to manufacture their own aircraft carriers. India attains a gold star for successfully finishing the project despite having no prior experience building such a large, sophisticated warship.
In light of escalating tensions with China and the People's Liberation Army (PLA) of China's expanding ventures into the IOR, arrival of INS Vikrant represents a substantial improvement in the Indian Navy's ability to project power. The latest technologies and apparent superiority over INS Vikrant are found on China's brand-new indigenous aircraft carrier, Fujian. More than twice as much as the Vikrant's displacement capability of 37,500–40,000 tonnes, Fujian has a displacement of even more than 80,000 tonnes. China forwent STOBAR and catapult technology in favour of equipping electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS). Most modern system, EMAL enables Fujian to launch a wider variety of heavy aircrafts with more ammunition, rapidly and easily. However, EMALS is yet to prove its reliability in carrier operations.
On the one hand, China has advanced weaponry and technological capabilities, but the efficacy of their military is what matters most. It can only be judged by the people using the machinery, not by the machinery itself. US Army veteran Dennis J. Blasko noted that Chinese politician Hu Jintao created the phrase "two incompatibles" in 2006 to denote the PLA's incapacity to triumph in regional conflicts and complete historic tasks. In 2013, Xi Jinping brought back the expression from the Deng era, "two inabilities," by questioning the PLA's ability to fight a contemporary war and the efficacy of its cadres at all levels of command because of insufficient combat leadership capabilities. On the other hand, it is significant that, Indian Navy has more experience in operating real-world scenarios and is thus obviously well capable of fighting a modern war.
This is also an excellent time to support the argument of designing India's third aircraft carrier, which has been the subject of heated discussion for the past decade. As per a Zee news report, planning stage of IAC-2 has already begun in 2015. The Navy specified the operating needs for the third carrier as part of the proposals presented; it would be larger than the current carriers, would displace roughly 65000 tonnes, might be nuclear powered and may feature the most recent EMALS technology. Building a third aircraft carrier would undoubtedly increase the strength of the Indian Navy and further its maritime goals when combined with Indian Naval competence.
Disclaimer: The article expresses the author’s views on the matter and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of any institution they belong to or of Trivium Think Tank and the StraTechos website.
Tarun G James
Tarun is a postgraduate scholar at the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations, Manipal Academy of Higher Education. His research focus is on India's maritime affairs in the Indian Ocean Region. He has also worked on the role of extra-regional powers - France & the USA - in the IOR.