- The Indian government, on the other hand, has yet to even grant preliminary approval for the construction of a third carrier, which will take well over a decade
- The French Rafale-M and the American F/A-18 will compete in a multibillion-dollar government-to-government deal.
The final countdown to the commissioning of India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC) as INS Vikrant has begun, with the Cochin Shipyard delivering the 45,000-tonne warship to the Navy on Thursday for a cost of nearly Rs 20,000 crore.
In a related development, the first two of 24 submarine-hunting MH-60 ‘Romeo’ helicopters from the United States arrived in Kochi, armed with Hellfire missiles, MK-54 torpedoes, and precision-kill rockets, with a third scheduled to arrive next month.
Under the Rs 15,157 crore ($2.13 billion) contract signed with the US in February 2020, all 24 choppers will arrive by 2025, equipped with multi-mode radars and night-vision devices. The MH-60Rs will fly from the IAC and other frontline warships.
The 262-meter-long and 62-meter-wide IAC, which can carry 30 fighters and helicopters, will be put into service in the second half of August.
She will then be renamed INS Vikrant after India’s first aircraft carrier, which was acquired from the United Kingdom in 1961 and played a key role in the 1971 war before being decommissioned in 1997.
The IAC, which is powered by four gas turbines totaling 88 MW of power, has a 76 percent indigenous content. It will have a crew of 1,700 people, including women, and a range of 7,500 nautical miles at a cruising speed of 18 knots.
However, while the Navy has conducted extensive sea trials of the long-delayed IAC over the last year, aviation trials of MiG-29K fighters and helicopters such as the Kamov-31 and MH-60R from her deck will not begin until later this year.
In effect, the carrier, which was first approved by the government in January 2003, will not be fully operational until mid-2023.
In stark contrast, China already has the world’s largest navy, with 355 warships and submarines to India’s 130-warship force, and it recently ‘launched’ its third aircraft carrier, the over 80,000-tonne Fujian. It is also rapidly constructing a fourth carrier and expanding its presence in the Indian Ocean region.
Fujian has a CATOBAR (catapult assisted take-off but arrested recovery) configuration that allows it to launch fighters as well as heavier aircraft from its deck for surveillance, early warning, and electronic warfare.
In turn, the United States has 11 “super” 100,000-tonne nuclear-powered carriers, each carrying 80-90 fighters and aircraft. The Indian government, on the other hand, has yet to even grant preliminary approval for the construction of a third carrier, which will take well over a decade.
Furthermore, both the existing 44,500-tonne INS Vikramaditya, inducted from Russia in November 2013 for $2.33 billion, and the IAC have only angled ski-jumps for fighters to take off under their own power in STOBAR (short take-off but arrested recovery) operations. This prevents them from flying larger planes.
As previously reported by TOI, with the indigenous twin-engine deck-based fighter still at least a decade away, the Navy is now rushing to acquire at least 24-26 fighters to operate from the IAC. The French Rafale-M and the American F/A-18 will compete in a multibillion-dollar government-to-government deal.