In good news for the Indian Navy, its quest for “Made in India” Aircraft Carrier program has moved ahead as India’s first Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC-1), INS Vikrant has entered basin trails wherein its propulsion, transmission and shafting systems are being tested. This will lead to the commencement of sea trials by end of 2020 and final entry into service by 2022. Team Guarding India bring you the story of upcoming aircraft carrier of Indian Navy.
India has a unique naval strategy that is in contrast with old Soviet or Chinese Naval Strategies. While most Asian nations focused on acquiring submarines for threatening enemy shipping lanes, the Indian Navy on the other hand went in for controlling the seas by expensive aircraft carriers. This was well suited for a seafaring nation like India which needs to ensure the safe passage of oil ships from the gulf to the western coast of India.
The correctness of the Indian Naval Strategy was demonstrated in the 1971 Indo-Pakistan War wherein the Indian Navy not only sank PNS Ghazi but launched continued attacks on Chittagong harbor while deterring any interference by the US Seventh fleet.
Indian Navy wants three aircraft carrier battle groups which will ensure constant deployment of one carrier battle group on both western coasts against Pakistan as well as on the eastern coast against China, while third aircraft carrier is on readiness to support any of the threatened coasts.
The Indian dream of building an aircraft carrier was first envisaged in 1989 wherein the Indian Navy was planning to build the replacement of two ex-Royal Navy aircraft carriers INS Vikrant (ex HMS Hercules) and INS Viraat (ex HMS Hermes). The project was then called Air Defence Ship (ADS). Due to the economic crisis of 1991, the aircraft carrier construction plans were put on hold and INS Vikrant retired in January 1997 without any replacement.
In 1999, then-Defence Minister George Fernandes gave an initial go-ahead and formal government approval was accorded in January 2003 which envisaged construction of 37,500-ton aircraft carrier capable of operating Russian MiG-29K fighters. The state-owned Cochin Shipyard Ltd (CSL) located at Kochi, Kerala was selected for constructing first ‘Made in India’ aircraft carrier.
Finally, in 2006, the Indian Navy changed the name of the indigenous aircraft carrier from erstwhile Air Defence Ship (ADS) to Indigenous Aircraft Carrier-1 or IAC-1. This aircraft carrier was to be named INS Vikrant which was the first carrier of the Indian Navy. The final design approved by the Indian Navy dictated that IAC-1 (INS Vikrant) will have a length of more than 260 meters and displacement beyond 40,000 tons.
The keel of INS Vikrant was laid in February 2009. It was floated out of dry dock on 29 December 2011 and was finally launched on 12 August 2013. The sea trials of INS Vikrant are expected to commence by March 2021 and ship is likely to enter operational service before mid-2022. The total cost of the INS Vikrant is expected to be at 4 billion USD as of 2020.
INS Vikrant will have a displacement of 40,000 tons with a length of 262 meters and it is powered by four US-made General Electric LM2500+ gas turbines engines. INS Vikrant can cover a range of 15,000 km with a top speed of 28 knots. INS Vikrant will be staffed by around 196 officers and 1,449 sailors. The primary sensor of INS Vikrant will be Israeli Elta 2248 MF STAR AESA radar with more than 500 km range. In addition, INS Vikrant will carry Tata Power SED manufactured Indra Lanza-N Air Surveillance Radar with a 350 km range.
INS Vikrant will have 10,000 square meters of aviation deck allowing it to carry around 30-40 aircraft consisting of naval fighters, anti-submarine helicopters, and even naval UAVs in the future. INS Vikrant is being designed to carry around two squadrons (around 30-32) Russian MiG-29K fighters which have reinforced airframe and undercarriage to withstand carrier landing stresses which may damage the normal aircraft.
MiG-29K has advanced Zhuk-ME radar that can detect enemy fighters beyond 120 km. Indian MiG-29K can carry a combat payload up to 5,500 kilograms on 13 weapon stations and is compatible with all weapons carried by Indian Air Force MiG-29s. MiG-29K has carries 30 mm cannon along with laser-guided and electro-optical bombs. It is compatible with an impressive missile load consisting of air-to-surface missiles like Kh-25, Kh-29, Kh-31, Kh-35, and air-to-air missile-like RVV-AE, R-27ER, and R-73E.
MiG-29K has a combat radius of 850 km which may be increased to 1,300 km with three drop tanks for additional fuel. The MiG-29K has a unique approach for range extension as it is capable of aerial refueling as well as “buddy” refueling other aircraft. For more details please read Guarding India Exclusive on MiG-29K fighters here.
In addition to formidable Mig-29K fighters, INS Vikrant is expected to carry a mix of Kamov Ka-31 airborne early warning (AEW) helicopters and upcoming deadly MH-60R anti-submarine helicopters whose details are covered in this Guarding India Exclusive.
Finally, for self-defense, INS Vikrant will be heavily armed. It will have four OTO Melara 76mm dual-purpose cannons for short-range anti-missile point defense, anti-aircraft, and anti-surface warfare. It will also carry AK-630 close-in weapon system (CIWS) which is a fully automatic six-barreled 30 mm rotary gun system that can fire staggering 5,000 rounds per minute to destroy any incoming anti-ship missiles or precision-guided weapons targeting INS Vikrant.
INS Vikrant will also carry two types of air defense missiles in two 32 cell VSLs (64 missiles in total). For short-range air defense, it will carry Israeli Barak 1 surface to air missile with 12 km range that will protect INS Vikrant from against enemy fighters, naval helicopters, anti-ship missiles, and UCAVs. For long-range air defense, INS Vikrant will carry Indo-Israeli Barak 8 surface to air missiles with a 100 km range. Barak 8 has been designed to take down any kind of aerial target including enemy fighters, helicopters, UCAVs, all types of anti-ship missiles, and even ballistic missiles which makes it a fleet defense weapon. In fact, INS Vikrant will be the first Indian aircraft carrier to have such extensive air defense weaponry.
Team Guarding India hopes that INS Vikrant will smoothly sail through all its trials and will be commissioned into the Indian Navy in 2022. We hope that this 40,000-ton aircraft carrier will play a pivotal role in ensuring maritime safety and security of the Indian Ocean.