India yesterday commissioned its first home-built aircraft carrier as it seeks to counter regional rival China’s much larger and growing fleet, and expand its own indigenous shipbuilding capabilities.
The INS Vikrant, whose name is a Sanskrit word for “powerful” or “courageous,” is India’s second operational aircraft carrier, joining the Soviet-era INS Vikramaditya, which it purchased from Russia in 2004.
The new 262m carrier, designed by the Indian Navy and built at in Kochi, was launched by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as part of the country’s commemoration of 75 years of independence from British rule.
More than just adding to the country’s naval capabilities, Modi stressed the importance of India now being only one of a handful of nations with an indigenous carrier program.
“It’s a historic day and landmark achievement,” Modi said. “It’s an example of the government’s thrust to make India’s defense sector self-reliant.”
The carrier is the largest warship to be built in the country, and can carry a crew of about 1,600 and operate a fleet of 30 aircraft, including fighter jets and helicopters, the navy said.
More than 75 percent of the new vessel’s components are indigenously procured, with half a dozen major industrial firms and more than 100 smaller businesses providing equipment and machinery, the Indian Ministry of Defense said.
A delay of six years caused a sixfold price overrun to 200 billion rupees (US$2.5 billion), defense experts have said.
The warship would be fully operational by the end of next year, after first undergoing landing trials with India’s Russian-made MiG-29K fighter aircraft.
India plans to equip the carrier with more than two dozen new fighters, with French-built Rafale-M fightes and US-built F/A-18 Block III Super Hornet jets being considered.
Until then, it would rely on the Russian aircraft borrowed from India’s other carrier, said Rahul Bedi, a defense expert.
In the past few years, China has expanded its presence into the Indian Ocean, the Western Pacific and beyond.
Last month, it sailed a navy vessel to a Chinese-built port in Sri Lanka, despite security concerns from New Delhi about such a port call right off India’s coast.
Beijing called the visiting ship a research vessel, but it was widely believed to be a dual-use spy vessel that India feared could be used to surveil the region.
In response to concerns over China’s growing assertiveness, the Indian Navy last year sent four warships to Southeast Asia, the South China Sea and the Indo-Pacific region for joint exercises with the US, Japan and Australia.
Modi yesterday said security concerns in the Indo-Pacific region and the Indian Ocean have been ignored for too long.
“Today this area is a big defense priority of the country for us,” he said. “We are working in every direction, from increasing the budget for the navy to increasing its capacity.”
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