The Indian Ocean, once considered the backyard of the Indian Navy, has now become critical to the country’s strategic interests.
In view of China’s growing efforts to increase its military presence in the Indian Ocean, the South China Sea and elsewhere, the nation’s quest for a Blue Water Navy has taken on increased importance.
As a major move toward that goal, India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC) Vikrant on Sunday successfully completed a five-day maiden sea voyage as the performance of the key systems of the 40,000-tonne warship was found to be satisfactory, Economic Times reported.
The aircraft carrier, built at a cost of around Rs 23,000 crore, set sail on Wednesday for the crucial sea trials ahead of its planned induction into the Indian Navy by August next year.
India, like China, sees aircraft carriers, and the highly visible power-projection capabilities they engender, as being a fundamental part of its navy’s ability to match expanding national aspirations.
“Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC) ‘Vikrant’ successfully accomplished its maiden sea voyage today. Trials progressed as planned and system parameters proved satisfactory,” Indian Navy spokesperson Commander Vivek Madhwal said.
He said the ship’s performance, including of the hull, main propulsion, power generation and distribution and auxiliary equipment were tested during the sea trials.
The delivery of Vikrant is being targeted to coincide with celebrations to commemorate the 75th anniversary of India’s independence “Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav,” he said.
On the successful completion of the trial, Vice Admiral AK Chawla said it was a “historic moment for the country.”
Described by the Indian Navy as the nation’s largest and most complex warship, the Vikrant was built at Cochin Shipyard Limited (CSL) in Kerala and is a flagship of the “Make in India” initiative, according to a report in The National Interest.
This has led to growth in indignous design and construction capabilities besides development of large number of ancillary industries, with employment opportunities for 2000 CSL personnel and about 12000 employees in ancillary industries.
Over 76% indigenous content towards procurement of equipment, besides work by CSL (a Public Sector Shipyard under Ministry of Shipping) and their subcontractors is being directly invested back into the Indian economy, NavalNews.com reported.
Around 550 Indian firms including about 100 MSMEs are registered with CSL, who are providing various services for construction of IAC.
The new vessel has a reported top speed of 28 knots and an endurance of around 7,500 nautical miles, powered by General Electric LM2500 gas turbines.
With a length of 860 feet, a width of 203 feet at its widest point, and a height of 194 feet including the superstructure, Vikrant is comparable in dimensions to the Indian Navy’s current aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya, a completely reworked Kiev class warship, National Interest reported.
Vikramaditya, particularly in that it is similarly equipped for short take-off but arrested recovery, or STOBAR operations. This means the warship lacks catapults, and instead it launches its fixed-wing aircraft off an angled “ski jump” ramp over the bow.
However, the Vikrant is said to have introduced some notable advances over the older, Soviet-era design.
For example, its crew of around 1,700 are provided with specialized cabins for female officers, and the level of automation is reportedly increased considerably, improving machinery operation, navigation, and survivability.
Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri served as a consultant for the design of the Vikrant’s hangar and deck, National Interest reported.
Unlike on Vikramaditya, the ship has elevators installed on either side of the superstructure to improve aircraft handling and movements.
The size of those elevators, however, could still be a problem, since they appear to be scaled more or less exclusively to the Russian-made MiG-29K Fulcrum fighter jet, potentially preventing any larger fixed-wing types from being deployed, at least without significant modifications.
However, a successor is being sought under the Multi-Role Carrier Borne Fighter (MRCBF) competition, which calls for 57 new jets.
Toward this effort, Boeing has been especially active in demonstrating that the Super Hornet can operate from a ski jump deck, with a series of trials using the ground-based ramp at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland.
The version offered to India for a contract estimated to be worth at least US$6.6 billion, is the advanced Block III Super Hornet.
It features an advanced cockpit for improved SA (Situational Awareness), new computing & advanced data link, conformal fuel tanks, SATCOM connectivity, block II IRST (Infra-Red Search and Track), increased airframe lifetime as well as the possibility to team up with the Indian P-8I.
As well as MiG-29Ks, and the future MRCBF, the Vikrant is likely to embark, in the near-term at least, Kamov Ka-31 Helix airborne early warning helicopters, Ka-28 Helix anti-submarine helicopters, and HAL Chetak plane-guard and utility helicopters, National Interest reported.
In terms of sensors and weapons, the Vikrant includes the Israeli-supplied IAI Elta EL/M-2248 MF-STAR, with four active electronically scanned radar arrays, which can be used for surface search as well as tracking aerial contacts.
The defensive weaponry is a mix of Israeli and Russian systems, with Rafael Barak 8 surface-to-air missiles complemented by AK-630 Gatling-gun-type close-in weapon systems.
Commander Madhwal said that the successful completion of the maiden trials, despite challenges faced due to the coronavirus pandemic, is a testimony to the dedicated efforts of a large number of stakeholders.
“This is a major milestone activity and historical event. The carrier would undergo a series of sea trials prior to its delivery in 2022,” he said.
Once the new Vikrant is commissioned into service, planned for the middle of next year, India will once again possess two carriers, but its ambitions extend beyond that, National Interest reported.
The next indigenous carrier, or IAC-2, INS Vishal is planned to be significantly bigger, in the region of 65,000 tons, compared to 40,000 tons for the new Vikrant.
Reflecting this ambition, India has looked to both the UK and the US for potential collaboration on IAC-2, in particular in the fields of launch and recovery systems, propulsion and overall design.
This vessel is expected to enter service sometime in the 2030s and may well incorporate an Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) in place of the ski jump.
Sources: Economic Times, The National Interest, Hindustan Times, LiveMint.com, NavalNews.com, Business Insider