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Vikrant-class Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC)

The Vikrant aircraft carrier was formally launched on 12 August 2013. The Vice Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Admiral R.K. Dhowan held a press briefing on 01 August 2013, as a curtain raiser prior to the launch of the indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC)- Project-71. With it, India would have its first indigenously-built aircraft carrier, allowing it to join the elite group of nations capable of designing and building an aircraft carrier. As of 2005, India had only one aircraft carrier, INS Virat and another aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov, rechristened as INS Vikramaditya, was to join the fleet by 2008 [by the end of 2008, this target had slipped to 2012, and then to the end of 2013]. While the Indian government claims that its first home-built carrier, the Vikrant, would be fully operational by 2018, Indian Navy sources say that date is closer to 2020 since the ship was only about 30 percent complete at launch.

With the retirement of the INS Vikrant in January 1997, the Indian Navy had only one carrier. This was set to change with the arrival of the "Admiral Of The Fleet Gorshkov" (formerly "Baku"), purchased from the Russian Navy, and the indigenous Air Defense Ship (ADS). Both these new carriers would be armed by the MiG-29SMTk. The ADS had been redesigned by the Navy to accommodate the Naval variant of the Russian- made MiG-29 fighter along with the Naval variant of the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), which would extend the air superiority and anti-shipping capabilities of the Indian Navy by a large margin.

Though the proposal to build a 20,000 ton Air Defence Ship (ADS) had been in the pipeline since the early 1990s, it received formal government approval only in January 2003. By then time, the vessel had doubled in displacement, to a 37,500 ton warship that would carry jet fighters like the MiG-29K and not the Sea Harriers as first planned. In August 2006 the Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Arun Prakash stated that the designation for the vessel had been changed from Air Defence Ship (ADS) to Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC). The misnomer ADS was adopted by the navy to ward off objections to the Navy going in for an aircraft carrier, especially by the IAF when the SU-30s were being acquired.

This is the most prestigious project which the Indian Navy had taken up so far. The design and construction of ADS is a technical complexity which far outstrip any such challenge faced hitherto by the Indian Navy. It is interesting to note that India became [arguably] the fourth country in recent times to launch its own large aircraft carrier [as opposed to smalelr VSTOL/helicopter carriers], after the United States, Russia and France [the United Kingdom and Italy have large carriers on the way].

The design of this prestigious ship was been undertaken by the Directorate of Naval Design (DND) which has an experience of over 40 years in successfully designing seventeen different classes of warships of which around 90 ships have already been built within the country. It is also pertinent to mention that DND is the only government organisation in the world today undertaking indigenous design of warships. Delhi class destroyers are the biggest warships built so far by indigenous design. These ships are operating successfully over to the last ten years and have demonstrated their design superiority when INS Delhi withstood extremely adverse weather conditions and high sea states during ship's passage in the South China Sea in 1995.

Cochin Shipyard Limited was chosen for building indigenous aircraft carrier due to its modern infrastructural facilities. Though this is the maiden venture for CSL in warship construction, the shipyard has been involved in commercial shipbuilding for the past three decades. In order to optimise on-build period, CSL has been provided with more than Rs 200 crore to augment infrastructure in areas such as large cranes, workshops and heavy duty machinery.

Vikrant marks a special feather in indigenous defence capabilities- this being the first ever aircraft carrier to be designed by the Directorate of Naval Design of the Indian Navy, the first warship to be built by Cochin Shipyard Limited and the first warship to be built entirely using indigenously produced steel. The construction of the ship is a truly pan Indian effort with active participation of private and public enterprises. The steel has come from SAILs plants in Raurkela in Orissa, Bokaro in Jharkand and Bhilai in Chattisgarh; the Main Switch Board, steering gear and water tight hatches have been manufactured by Larsen and Toubro in its plants in Mumbai and Talegaon; the high capacity air conditioning and refrigeration systems have been manufactured in Kirloskars plants in Pune; most pumps have been supplied by Best and Crompton, Chennai; Bharat Heavy Engineering Limited (BHEL) is supplying the Integrated Platform Management System (IPMS); the massive gear box is supplied by Elecon in Gujarat; the tens of thousands of electrical cable is supplied by Nicco industries in Kokatta; Kolkatta is also where the ships anchor chain cable is manufactured. The design and construction of the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier was sanctioned by the government in January 2003. The production of indigenous aircraft carrier commenced in November 2006 and the keel of the ship was laid on 28 Feb 2009 by Shri AK Antony. By 2009 large numbers of blocks had already been fabricated, which were under erection. Major equipment to be installed in lower decks of the ship had been ordered. The ship construction was planned in two phases. The first phase covers work up to first launch in end 2010. The second phase would cover all balance work till delivery of the ship to the Navy in end 2014. Assistance for propulsion system integration and aviation aspects have been taken from M/s Fincantieri of Italy and M/s NDB of Russia respectively.

The aircraft carrier would be floated out of dry dock, then redocked in order to mount the propulsion system. Work would then begin on the deck and the weapon systems before sea trials. And while Defence Ministry officials say those trials would begin by 2016, Indian Navy sources say it would not be before 2018-19. the total cost of the carrier would be more than US $5 billion, including the aircraft and weapons systems. When the project was approved in 2003, the ship was estimated to cost around $500 million. Sources said the construction of the carrier, minus the weapon systems and aircraft, would cost more than $2.2 billion.

The Navy planned to have three aircraft carriers; a final decision is awaited on the IAC-2, which would be another homemade carrier but would displace more than 60,000 tons, 20,000 tons more than Vikrant. IAC-2 is still in the design stage but would have a catapult deck. Having three carriers allows one to be stationed on each of Indias coasts, while the third would undergo repairs.



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