India finally commissions its first indigenous aircraft carrier
The Indian Navy (IN) commissioned its 43,000t INS Vikrant aircraft carrier on 2 September, but it will only be fully operational by late 2023, senior officials said.
Delayed by nearly seven years, INS Vikrant cost INR200 billion ($2.52 billion), almost six times its expected price.
Officials said flight trials on the short-take-off-but-arrested-recovery carrier would begin in November. The aim is to integrate MiG-29K/KUB fighters, a task that should be completed around mid-2023.
Designed by the navy’s Warship Design Bureau in Delhi, and constructed by Cochin Shipyard Limited (CSL), the carrier’s keel was laid in 2009.
The postponements were due to CSL not receiving the blueprints from the under-staffed bureau on time, complex equipment import procedures, and a lack of specialist welders and marine technicians.
Further, there was a road accident in 2014 involving a truck transporting generators to CSL. Sourcing AB/A-grade steel domestically, after efforts to import it from Russia were abandoned in 2004-05, also caused holdups.
The IN claims that 76% of materials and equipment, comprising the carrier’s hull and overall structure, were sourced domestically. This included 23,000t of steel, 2,500km of electrical cables and 150km of specialised pipes.
Other domestically-provided equipment included RHIBs, air-conditioning and refrigeration plants, anchor capstans, galley and communication equipment and combat network systems.
Industry sources said around 50% of the carrier’s propulsion content was imported, including four LM-2500 gas turbines. Nearly 80% of its combat component is imported.
The 262m-long carrier will eventually embark 30 aircraft, including 12-15 MiG-29K/KUBs, and Ka-31 AEW and MH-60R helicopters, the IN stated.
However, the IN has to ‘make do’ with MiG-29Ks until it procures 26 Multi-Role Carrier-Borne Fighters (MRCBF) to supplement and eventually replace them.
The Rafale M and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet have both been evaluated for the MRCBF requirement. In time, though, the MRCBF will be replaced by an under-development twin-engine indigenous light combat aircraft.
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