India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant, a 40,000-tonne ship, is under construction at Cochin Shipyard for the Indian Navy. The keel was laid down in Feb 2009 and the ship was launched in Aug 2013 with the aim to commission it prior to retirement of INS VIRAT. Now most likely it will go for sea trials by end of this year and then get commissioned by end 2018. Indian Navy will then be able to form and operate a carrier battle group on both sides of the Indian Peninsula, by basing at Karwar and Vishakhapatnam respectively. However to guard the Indian interests from Malacca to Madagascar Indian Navy needs additional four Carrier Battle Groups. These will need stationing at Port Blair, Cochin , Port Louis and Camranh Bay.
In not too distant past there used to be heated discussions in the Indian media and even defence circles regarding the utility of the ”Old Lady ” of the Indian Navy. Now not only we will be commissioning a brand new INS VIKRANT, the Government will soon be giving final sanction for construction of second Aircraft Carrier INS VISHAL. Discussions are on within the Indian Navy over the final design and propulsion system for the second aircraft carrier planned to be built in the country. It is likely to approach the government for final sanction in another two to three months. The controller of Warship Production and Acquisition Vice Admiral D.M. Deshpande noted that there is a “bit of question mark” from the Defence Ministry’s side due to the huge cost involved.
Deshpande said everyone wanted to be clear on the requirement before a final sanction is accorded. India at present has only one aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya — a modified Russian Kiev-class aircraft carrier. The other aircraft carrier — INS Viraat, a British-built ship serving with the Indian Navy and the oldest carrier in service — retired on March 6. In Principle approval for the second carrier was given in 2013 and a fund of Rs 30 crores was allotted for prelim design and other works. The Basic Design and tonnage is more or less finalized. It is likely to be a ship of 65000 to 70000 tons to be constructed at Cochin. The final hitch is on the propulsion system….that is the existing conventional one or nuclear propulsion. The second indigenous aircraft carrier is likely to be nuclear-propelled.
Then the Navy also has to finalize the aircraft launching system. Seeing the size of the ship and the requirement to operate AWES type of aircrafts, it is most likely to be the CATOBAR—-Catapult Assisted Take Off But Arrested Recovery rather than the STOBAR —-Short Take Off But Arrested Recovery being fitted on VIKRANT. Whatever be the final design for VISHAL, the Navy and the Government must decide and work out a time frame in which we take on the construction of additional three VISHALs. This will not only enable India to regain its rightful place in world and Asian affairs but also lead to economy of scale and boost to shipping construction.