Floating base

The indigenous aircraft carrier launch

International strategic community especially the Chinese have taken note of the launch of India’s indigenous aircraft carrier, the kind of ambitious project on which the Chinese have not yet been independently able to embark upon.

The aircraft carrier named Vikrant, after India’s now retired first carrier acquired from UK in early sixties, has projected India as a nation trying to dominate the Oceans by reviving its great maritime traditions. Since the carrier will help India control the High Seas, especially the Indian Ocean, the world maritime powers are viewing India’s emerging maritime prowess with awe.  

Commenting on the launching of Vikrant, the vice president of Chinese naval research institute Senior Captain Zhang Junshe said, “The Indian Navy will have lead over China as it will have two aircraft carriers by the end of this year with INS Vikramaditya, the refitted carrier from Russia joining INS Viraat, which is already in service even though Vikrant was expected to be operational by 2018. This will enhance the overall capabilities especially the power projection capabilities of the Indian Navy”.

Though the ACC will take more than five years to help India mark its strong deterrent presence in the Indian Ocean along with the INS Vikramaditya, which will join the fleet by the end of this year, Indian Navy would still have a two carrier fleet as by the time Vikrant joins the fleet, the INS Viraat will be on the verge of retirement.

Enhancing strength

But Indian naval designers have proved that they can equip the country with a three carrier fleet by early next decade. The proposal for the second Indian carrier is awaiting the sanction of the Ministry of Defence, which will then be forwarded to the Cabinet Committee on Security.  The launching of the first indigenous ACC Vikrant has given the designers of the Naval Design Directorate enough confidence to produce even bigger and much more capable and ferocious ship prowling in the high seas with a Carrier Battle Group comprising the Destroyers, frigates and the submarines besides the range of aviation equipments and long range missiles.

With the launch of the IAC on 12th August at Cochin Shipyard, India has crossed an important milestone in the indigenous acquisition of an aircraft carrier. The carrier expected to be handed over to the Indian Navy by 2018, will herald India into the select group of nations who has the design and manufacturing ability of around 40,000 ton carrier.

With this landmark feat, India will achieve the true status of a maritime power, possessing the Blue Water Navy, who can operate own domestic manufactured frigates, destroyers and now aircraft carrier.

Though the construction of the carrier has encountered many roadblocks, but Indian designers, scientists and engineers have successfully overcome these and now the nation has been promised an Indigenous Aircraft Carrier.  Presently, the 28, 000 ton INS Viraat, acquired in 1988 from the Royal Navy will continue in service till the IAC-1 is commissioned in the Indian Navy.

The IAC-1 christened as INS Vikrant, has followed the old Indian tradition of naming newly inducted ships on the retired one. With the successful launch of IAC-1, the Government will very soon give the go ahead for the second IAC, the design parameters of which have been sent to the MoD for final approval. The Indian Navy is eagerly waiting for the CCS clearance to fulfill its ambitions of three carrier navy by early next decade.

Initial delay

One of the principal reasons that delayed the launching of the carrier was because of the special category steel required and the original suppliers, the Russians, expressed inability to supply them because of the requirements to meet domestic demands.

India then approached few other developed nations and none other came to India’s rescue. Ultimately  the DMRL, the Defence Metallurgical Research Laboratory under the DRDO  in collaboration with the Steel Authority of India (SAIL) joined hands and gave India a precious gift which will make India self dependent on such advanced category of Special High tensile Steel called the DMR – 249A and DMR-249B. This has proved to be a boon in disguise and India’s future requirements for carrier grade steel will be met domestically.

 This will definitely embolden India’s warship industry, which need not depend on the imported steel at a very heavy price. Thus the IAC has not only given India a capability to make most modern class of carriers and warships in India but Indian maritime industry will also be enriched through this extraordinary capability.

Though the principal designers of the carrier the Naval Ship Design Directorate, based in New Delhi had to seek the Italian Fincantieri help in designing the induction of the Gas Turbines, the gigantic 37,500 ton ships has been designed as a whole by the naval designers who have almost five decades old experience of designing warships.

With the launching of Vikrant, the Cochin Shipyard has begun the Phase -2 of the construction program which will comprise of outfitting and construction of superstructure. Though the naval officials, Cochin Shipyard and the MoD is tightlipped over the cost of the entire project, sources say that the first phase has cost the navy almost 15,000 crores and the cost of second phase will be known only when the MoD and the Cochin Shipyard signs the contract for the second phase, for which detailed work is being finalized.

According to Cochin Shipyard officials the indigenous content of the warship would be around 80 and 90 percent in the floating department, up to 60 percent in the movement and not more than 30 percent in the fighting component of the carrier.

Advanced features

The carrier is 260 meter long and maximum breadth of 60 metre. It would be propelled by two shafts, each coupled to two LM 2500 Gas Turbines developing power sufficient to operate at a maximum speed of 28 Knots. The Italian Fincantieri helped build the Cavor with LM 500 engines and the design for its integration.

The aviation facilities complex will be fitted with the help of Russian engineers.  The ship has an extensive endurance and complement of 1600 sailors. The ship would have two take off runways and a landing strip with three arrester wires, capable of operating STOBAR aircraft mix including the indigenous LCA, as well as different class of helicopters with hangar facilities. The carrier is designed with a very high degree of automation for machinery operation, ship navigation and survivability.

The Vikrant has been powered by four LM 2500 engines, supplied by the US GE company, which has been derived from the GE CF6 aircraft. Like the INS Vikramaditya, the Vikrant will have MiG-29K fighters but only 12 in number, whereas the rest eight will be India’s indigenous Light Combat Aircraft naval version. The carrier will also fly ten anti submarine and reconnaissance helicopters. The Vikrant will have two 2248-M-\\FStar radars, which is similar to the one fitted on Type-15A warship and a long range Selex supplied RAN-40L long range air warning radar.

According to Vice Admiral R K Dhowan, the Vice Chief of Indian Navy, India will be the fifth country in the world to have the capability to manufacture ship of 40,000 ton displacement class. The ship will generate 24 MW of power enough to light a small township along with on board 200 ton sea water purification facility and air conditioning facility. The construction of the massive gear bow was a major achievement for transmission of power from the four engines to the Carrier’s shafts and screws.

The Vikrant will have the AK 630 fast firing Gatling gun a close-in-weapon system (CIWS) for point defence which is based on a Russian system and made by the Indian Ordnance Factory Board. Russia will also provide the Aircraft Control Systems, while the Long Range Surface to Air Missile is under joint development with the Israelis and the Indian DRDO.

According to the Cochin Shipyard major outfitting of the ship is scheduled for completion by 2016, after which Basin Trials and extensive sea trials of the ship will be progressed prior to delivery.