New Delhi (CNN) – India on Friday joined the elite of global naval powers by commissioning its first indigenously built aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant.
With a $3 billion Vikrant, India will join a small number of countries with more than one aircraft carrier or helicopter carrier in service and become the third country, after the UK and China, to commission an aircraft carrier builder. nationwide in the last three years.
The aircraft carrier has given the nation “new confidence,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at a rioting ceremony at the shipyards in Cochin in the southern Indian state of Kerala.
“The goal may be difficult. The challenges may be great. But when India makes its decision, no goal is impossible,” Modi said before boarding the aircraft carrier and hoisting the country’s new naval flag.
“Until now, this type of aircraft carrier was made only by developed countries. Today, India, by entering this league, has taken another step to become a developed country,” Modi said, adding that the Indo-Pacific remains “a high security priority.” for India.
John Bradford, a professor at S.S. Rajaratnam International Studies Center in Singapore, India’s commitment to the ship reflects its “long-term vision for maintaining a global naval power.”
“There are doubts about the survival of any aircraft carrier in the age of missiles, but the major navies, including the United States, Japan, China and the United Kingdom, are doubling their investments in aircraft carriers. In this regard, India is keeping it in check,” Bradford said.
The Vikrant joins the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, a refurbished Soviet-era aircraft carrier purchased from Russia in 2004, in the Indian fleet.
With a displacement of about 40,000 tons, the Vikrant is slightly smaller than the Vikramaditya and aircraft carriers of the United States, China and the United Kingdom, although it is larger than Japan.
But analysts have praised its potential firepower.
When its air wing becomes operational in the next few years, Vikrant will be able to carry up to 30 aircraft, including MiG-29K fighters, which will be launched from its ski-slope-style deck, helicopters, as well as defensive. Systems, including surface-to-air missiles.
The aircraft carrier is powered by four gas turbine engines and has an estimated top speed of 52 km/h with a range of 13,890 km.
“India is sending the message that it has the strength, it has the aircraft carriers and therefore the air power to control the farthest Indian Ocean,” said Ajay Shukla, a former Indian military officer turned defense analyst.
Analysts say the new carrier, destroyers and frigates that will eventually make up its strike group, gives India more options as well.
“India can influence and coordinate potential security solutions to regional problems. Having a naval task force with naval capabilities increases India’s influence and options. It is not required to join a multilateral response, but it can.” , or creating an independent existence, if Carl Schuster, a former U.S. Navy captain who now teaches at Hawaii Pacific University, said, “You wish.”
The new aircraft carrier will allow India to play a larger role in military exercises under the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or “Quadruple,” an informal alliance of the United States, Japan, Australia and India.
For example, US and Japanese aircraft carriers participated in the annual Malabar exercises, which were attended by members of the Quartet.
Building Vikrant was not easy for India.
Its design and construction was approved by the government in 2003 and the keel was laid in February 2009. The vessel was named Vikrant, which means “courageous” or “victorious” in Sanskrit, and was launched in August 2013.
But there were delays after that: some features needed a redesign, then there was a problem getting flight equipment from Russia, and then the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
However, experts say India will be able to improve its capacity to build domestic ships and learn from experience.
“They now have the experience to build the next carrier faster and perhaps with a better design,” Schuster said.
The Indian Navy is studying the possibility of building a second national aircraft carrier. The project is still in the concept stage, but there has been speculation that the size of the new carrier could be as high as 65,000 tons, such as HMS Queen Elizabeth in the UK or China’s second carrier, Shandong.
China is India’s main maritime competitor in the region. With two aircraft carriers in service and a third, more advanced carrier launched last year, China is outperforming India both numerically and technologically, but analysts are giving India an edge in the carrier’s operating experience.
The Indian Navy began operating aircraft carriers in 1961. Its first aircraft carrier, which it purchased from the United Kingdom, was also called Vikrant. Ole Vikrant retired in 1997. A second British aircraft carrier, INS Viraat, served in the Indian Navy for 30 years before retiring in 2017.
China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, was an unfinished Soviet-era ship that Beijing bought from Ukraine in 1998, and was finally upgraded and put into service in 2012. The first indigenously built aircraft carrier, Shandong, entered service in 2019 and in June 2022 was launched. Its third aircraft carrier Fujianan advanced aircraft carrier with electromagnetic catapult assisted launch systems, similar to those used by the United States.
“On paper, the new Chinese airlines have more capabilities in terms of payload and technology than Vikrant. However, India has decades of experience operating carrier air forces, while China is still learning,” said Bradford, an analyst in Singapore.
Even with this experience, it could take a year or more for Vikrant to be ready as a fighting force. This is the case for aircraft carriers. The newest US aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald Ford, was commissioned in 2017 and is not expected to be deployed for the first time until later this year.
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