NEW DELHI: India’s indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC) will become fully operational, with supersonic fighter jets and multi-role helicopters operating from its deck, only by mid-2023 at the earliest.
But once deployed, the 40,000-tonne carrier to be christened INS Vikrant will pack quite an offensive punch and project raw military power on the high seas. “The combat capability, reach and versatility of the aircraft carrier will add formidable capabilities in the defence of our country and help secure India’s interests in the maritime domain,” said defence minister Rajnath Singh on Friday.
Reviewing the ongoing construction of the IAC at Cochin Shipyard at a cost of around Rs 23,000 crore, along with Admiral Karambir Singh, the minister said the government was “fully committed” to a strong Navy with operational reach and prowess to protect the country’s huge maritime interests.
“The Navy remains poised and combat-ready to tackle any challenge. The Navy’s proactive forward deployment during the Galwan standoff (with China last year) signalled our intent that we seek peace but are ready for any eventuality,” he added.
The commissioning of IAC, the most complex warship ever to be built in India with “nearly 75% indigenous content”, will take place next year. “It will be a befitting tribute to 75 years of India’s independence,” said Singh.
The sea trials of the IAC, which was first sanctioned by the government way back in January 2003, will begin in another couple of months. But the flight trials of MiG-29K fighters, Kamov-31 airborne early warning helicopters, MH-60R multi-role helicopters and the indigenously manufactured ALHs (advanced light helicopters) will begin from its deck after its commissioning in mid-2022. “The flight trials will take almost a year. The carrier will become fully operational thereafter,” said a source.
India currently has only one aircraft carrier, the 44,500-tonne INS Vikramaditya, inducted from Russia for $2.33 billion in November 2013. Another $2 billion was spent on procuring 45 MiG-29Ks to operate from its deck.
The Navy now wants 36 new multi-role fighters to meet the shortfall in the number of jets required for both INS Vikramaditya and IAC. The case for a third 65,000-tonne carrier (IAC-II), which has been pending since May 2015, is also yet to get even the initial “acceptance of necessity” by the government.
China, assiduously ramping up its naval presence in the Indian Ocean Region, has fast-tracked its aircraft carrier plans. It already has two carriers, Liaoning and Shandong, and is building two more towards its aim of eventually having 10 of them.
The US Navy, of course, has as many as 11 “super” 100,00-tonne carriers, each of which can carry 80-90 fighters. A `carrier strike group’ of an aircraft carrier and its accompanying warships is a self-contained and composite war-fighting machine, with inherent flexibility and mobility to shift to a new theatre of operations in 48 to 72 hours.