INS Vikrant Resurrects
On 02 September, the INS Vikrant joined Indian Navy in the form of a majestic 45,000 tons aircraft carrier to rule the oceans and seasonce again.The resurrection was the best tribute to the erstwhile INS Vikrant which had played a stellar role inliberation of Bangladesh during the Indo-Pak War 1971.The aging aircraft carrier was decommissioned from the navy in 1997.
Designed by the Indian Navy’s warship design bureau, and built at Cochin Shipyard, a public sector undertaking, the making of INS Vikrant is a success story scripted by public and private sectors together. It is truly an indigenous effort, which propels India in the select group of five nations (United States, United Kingdom, Russian Federation, China and France) who can design and construct and integrate an aircraft carrier with their own expertise.
It is so heart-warming to see that the crest of Vikrant taking to the seas again after a hiatus of 25 years. Its crest depicts four bows and arrows pointing towards the inter-cardinal directions (northwest, northeast, southeast and southwest) meaning to meet all threats with equal preparedness. Vikrant’s motto derived from Rigveda says जयेम सं युधि स्पर्ध : meaning,‘We conquer all our foes in fight’.
In its present form the INS Vikrant is 262 M long and 62 M wide at the beam. It weighs 21,000 tons and once fully loaded displaces 45,000 tons. Powered by four 22 MW gas turbine engines, the carrier attains a top speed of 28 knots and can endure for 7,500 nautical miles in one go. It will be combat ready by May 2023 after aircraft landing trials.
Planned for 30 embarked aircrafts–fixed and rotary wing,the INS Vikrant will wield considerable air power for combat support, airborne early warning and anti-submarine warfare, once it gets the fighter aircrafts. Presently,the MiG 29K from INS Vikramaditya and Kamov 31,MH 60R and HAL Dhruv helicopters shall be deployed.It is plannedto procure either the F18 Super Hornets or Rafael M for the carrier and develop LCA (Navy) to augment the air power. The carrier, like its older sibling the INS Vikramadita is equipped with short takeoff but arrested recovery (STOBAR) design, that’s why we see such pronounced angled bow/ski-jump on the flight deck. For optimum use of fighter aircrafts’ payload electromagnetic system for takeoff is preferred over STOBAR design.
Its on board armaments include 32 cell VLS Barak 8 surface to air missile, four Otobreda 76 mm dual purpose cannons and four AK-630 close in weapon system rotary cannons.
The superstructure has 2,200 compartments and cabins, which can accommodate about 1,600 sailors and officers. It has a modern 16-bed hospice complete with operation theatres and ICU and pantries which can cater for the gastronomic needs of its crew.
In its formative years, the Indian Navy hadrealized about the India’s geo-strategic compulsions of safeguarding maritime interests by dominating the sea lines of communication and choke points in the Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and resources permitting, even beyond. To acquire an aircraft carrier in 1957 from the United Kingdom, when our economy was beset with the humongous problems of development just like any other developing country, in itself speaks of the vision of our Admirals. India thus became the first country in the region to operate an aircraft carrier, much before China. The Navy got its second aircraft carrier,the INS Viraat (formerly HMS Hermes) in 1987 (decommissioned in 2016) and the third one,the INS Vikramaditya (formerly Admiral Gorshkov) in 2013.
Aircraft carriers are costly to build and maintain. These need aircrafts, frigates, destroyers, submarines and support ships for their protection and sustenance. Countries other than China, have not fielded any new aircraft carrier in the recent years. China has been able to field three aircraft carriers in ten years (2012-22). Why an aircraft carrier, which is so expensive to build and maintain remainsan important factor in the maritime security matrix of India? India’s geo-strategic location calls for a proactive maritime strategy to protect her own interests and increase the area of influence far and wide.
Since the dawn of new millennium the world has been witnessing the rise of China and its ambition to become a global military power. The power equation in the seas east of Malacca Strait have been redrawn by laying unsubstantiated claims over islands, exclusive economic zones, sea ports, sea lines of communication and trying to settle these through coercive means has exposed her ambitions to rule the oceans and littoral states. Its ambitious project Belt Road Initiative, which aims to develop a string of sea ports around the world, only substantiates her grandiose strategic intent.
In August, post Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, People’s Liberation Army conducted nearly a week-long full-fledged military maneuvers with live ammunition firing in the Taiwan Strait, East China Sea, Philippine Sea and South China Sea disrupting international maritime and civil aviation traffic. Conducting aggressive maneuvers, the People’s Liberation Army–Navy had laid blockade around Taiwan at six locations.This naked aggression emanates from the growing military power of China and it may attempt to annex Taiwan in the near future.
China had commissioned its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning in 2012. Its first domestically built carrier, the Shandong, entered service in 2019 followed by Fujian in 2022. With each aircraft carrier, China has improved upon the designs, technology, sub-systems and the complement of weapons, missiles and electronic suits. Fujian boasts of electromagnetic catapult-assisted launch systems, similar to those used by the United States navy. China plans to build at least five more aircraft carriers by 2030-35.
A belligerent China does not bode well for India. It has started arming the navies of Bangladesh and Myanmar by providing them old submarines to pose a problem for India in a relatively uncontested Arabian Sea. In August, much to India’s chagrin, Sri Lanka government permitted a Chinese spy ship Yuan Wang 5 to dock at Sri Lanka’s southern Hambantota port (leased to China by Sri Lanka) and in the same breath permitted Pakistan’s Chinese-built frigate warship PNS Taimur to make a port call in Colombo while on its way to join the Pakistan Navy after the Bangladesh government had denied it permission to dock. These instances are only going to grow if India does not acquire a credible tri-Service military capability to safeguard her maritime interests in the Indian Ocean.
In future battlefield milieu hypersonic anti-ship missiles, autonomous armed drones, stealth fighter aircrafts and bombers, stealth surface ships and stealth submarines would pose an existential threat to a flotilla. In August 2020, China fired its anti-ship ballistic missiles DF 21D and DF 26 from the mainland and struck a moving target ship between Paracel and Hainan islands in the South China Sea earning a sobriquet for its missiles “aircraft carrier killers”. Such scenarios will unfold in future conflicts, where the weapon systems would be precise, lethal, autonomous and smart, putting the survivability of surface ships in jeopardy.
Will there be a third aircraft carrier (Vishal) planned? Going by the optimism and confidence generated by the commissioning of the INS Vikrant, India can do it in a more efficient and cost effective manner as most of the sub-systems and components can be produced indigenously. For ensuring operational deployment of two aircraft carriers at a time, Indian Navy certainly needs the third aircraft carrier.
The next aircraft carrier if planned, should be in the range of 65,000 to 70,000 tons displacement, powered by a nuclear reactor, housing about 45-50 aircraft and drones, fitted with electromagnetic system for takeoff, capable of detecting and neutralizing inimical aerial, surface, sub-surface and cyber threats on its own and manned by about 1000 sailors and officers.
By Colonel Utkarsh Singh Rathore