INS Vikrant is reborn, as new aircraft carrier launched - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 12 August 2013

INS Vikrant is reborn, as new aircraft carrier launched

Top, Elizabeth Antony and guests after she launched INS Vikrant; Bottom, the Vikrant at its temporary berth outside Cochin Shipyard

By Ajai Shukla
Cochin Shipyard, Kochi
Business Standard, 12th Aug 13

At Kochi, on Monday, a giant step was taken towards the rebirth of the Indian Navy’s iconic former flagship, the INS Vikrant.

On Mar 4, 1961, on a cold, blustery morning at Belfast, Northern Ireland, in the presence of Indian High Commissioner Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, INS Vikrant was commissioned as the Indian Navy’s first aircraft carrier. During the 1971 war, the Vikrant had imposed a blockade on Bangladesh, and its Seahawk fighters wreaked havoc on Pakistani forces and vessels in Chittagong and Cox’s Bazaar. On Jan 31, 1997, the Vikrant was decommissioned; it is now a floating maritime museum, moored off Mumbai.

But good navies keep their battleships alive; and India’s first aircraft carrier will be reborn as its first indigenously built carrier. At Cochin Shipyard Ltd (CSL) today the reborn Vikrant was launched. This signals the completion of its basic structure and the start of its next phase of “outfitting,” in which internal machinery, wiring, piping, weapons and sensors will be fitted. This will boost the vessel from its current 18,500 tonnes --- already as much as the original Vikrant --- to a hefty 40,000 tonnes. The planned weight of 37,500 tonnes will be overshot significantly, say naval designers, due to weight over-runs on several systems. That will not affect performance, they say.

That weight will include 4,500 tonnes of engine fuel, 1,500 tonnes of aircraft fuel, 1,000 tonnes of fresh water and 500-1,000 tonnes of ammunition. A crew of 1,500-1,600 persons will operate the vessel, and there are facilities to carry a significant number of soldiers (or marines) for operations if required.

It will also include two squadrons (12 fighters each) of MiG-29K and Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA). In addition, there would be about 10 helicopters, mainly for anti-submarine searches and to function as airborne command systems.

In nautical tradition, the Vikrant was launched by a lady --- Elizabeth Antony, wife of Defence Minister AK Antony. After an invocation to the Gods was sung, she smashed a coconut on the ship’s bow, a first test for the indigenous SAIL-supplied steel that the Vikrant is built from. It passed comfortably.

The launch itself was not the spectacular entry into water of smaller warships, which transit dramatically on rollers from land into water, creating an enormous splash and debris bobbing in its wake. The 260-metre-long Vikrant is simply too large for that. Instead, it was towed out of the dry dock sedately and berthed in the Vembanadu Channel outside.

Over the next year or so, it will be outfitted and its superstructure built. This five-story-high structure on the deck will contain the bridge, radars and the Russia-supplied aviation complex that will control flight operations. By 2015, with weapons and sensors in place, the Vikrant will commence an extensive process of sea trials and aviation trials. After that, it will join the naval fleet.

For the navy, which built its first warship, INS Ajay, in 1961, the Vikrant is the latest triumphant way stop in a gritty journey towards self-reliance. India now builds sophisticated warships, such as the Kolkata-class destroyers in Mazagon Dock, Mumbai, but these have been under 7,000 tonnes. The Vikrant’s sheer size makes its construction a capability leap.

Said the navy chief, Admiral DK Joshi, ceremony today, “The navy has always been conscious that designing and building warships is a core strategic capability for any nation.”

When commissioned in 2018, the Vikrant would be the navy’s third aircraft carrier. INS Vikramaditya, formerly the Admiral Gorshkov, will arrive later this year, said Mr Antony today. Operating from the new naval base of Karwar, the Vikramaditya will be the flagship of the western fleet. The much older INS Viraat will spearhead the eastern fleet, operating from Visakhapatnam. Vice Admiral KR Nair, the navy’s Director General for Warship Acquisition & Production, says that the Viraat’s recent life-cycle-extension refit will enable it to continue in service for the foreseeable future.

But the Vikrant’s commissioning will achieve a longstanding naval ambition --- to have three in-service aircraft carriers, so that at least one is available for each of the two seaboards, western and eastern, even when one aircraft carrier is undergoing maintenance or life-cycle-extension.

“The launch of an indigenous aircraft carrier is the first step in a long journey, but an important one,” declared Mr Antony today.

Speculation continues over the size and capabilities of the next vessel, the so-called indigenous aircraft carrier – 2 (IAC–2). Analysts have projected that it would be in the 65,000 tonne category, making it a significantly more capable vessel with many more aircraft.

But Vice Admiral Nair, the navy’s top warship planner, insists that the navy has not reached any conclusions. Decisions to be taken are: how many aircraft the IAC-2 will carry and, therefore, its size and tonnage. While the Vikrant carries 34 aircraft, the navy might well choose greater punch, with 45-50 aircraft. Size would determine the propulsion system; gas turbines are less complicated, but add 5-10,000 tonnes of fuel load. But a nuclear reactor comes with its own complications, such as a long refueling period during which the vessel is out of action.

Another key decision for IAC–2 relates to the launch system. As Business Standard has reported, US company, General Atomics, briefed the navy in May on the new-generation “electro-magnetic aircraft launch system” (EMALS) that will equip the next generation of US Navy aircraft carriers. The navy worries that EMALS is relatively untested, and so could remain with its current “short takeoff but arrested landing” (STOBAR) configuration. Planners are also evaluating the well-tested “catapult assisted takeoff but arrested landing” (CATOBAR) system that the US Navy has used for decades.


  1. A modular reactor unit in the center of the ship would be the idea choice.

    The reactor/s unit can simply be swapped out during refit and a new reactor unit fully fueled can be swapped in its place. Of course this will need to be a principle design consideration if they want to go nuclear and save themselves the need for 3 month refits/ refueling.

    However, even without this - the average time between refueling for a nuclear powered vessel is about 30 years. So the problem of extended time for refueling is quite moot to begin with.

    The only REAL consideration is the cost - benefit analysis that the Navy needs to make. It shouldn't be about "ego" or "prestige" but purely on tactical and operational advantages and financial considerations.

  2. Shuklaji,
    I don't understand why there is so much celebration about the term of so called 'launching ' of INS Vikrant. The ship is half built without take down runway,jets, incomplete rear end, control deck,etc. I can say that this ship is years behind from getting inducted in the navy. It has to undergo sea trials, weapons trials, landing trials, etc. After that the main task is fault finding & taking necessary actions to correct it. The navy officials itself says that it will be battle ready by 2020 or beyond. The ceremonies are totally time waste & money waste. It may have been done for election campaign & to give a message to China. But frankly speaking it will serve no purpose. If in a year or two if China attacks India then what purpose this Vikrant will serve. Only 1 big ceremony is to be organised when it finally gets inducted otherwise next we will hear pipe laying ceremony,colouring ceremony,etc. Apart from this we have become fed up hearing of so called trials & layings & testings of tejas & arihant.

  3. @Ajai sir

    a few things

    you say 'the Vikrant was decommissioned; it is now a floating maritime museum, moored off Mumbai.' the fact is, this ship is all set to be scraped and that order are set to be issued soon.

    what a tragic waste of history

    I wish / suggest this ship could and should be sunk and converted into a artificial coral reef & diving destination.

    Could you if you please suggest the same to the higher ups and save the historic ship from ignonimity.

    You forgot to mention IAC1 will fly NLCA mk2, which is long way away & thats why its being said IAC1/Vikrant will be battle ready only by 2020 as NLCA mk1 itself is long way off let alone mk2.

    Btw isnt IAC1 is 262 m long as per some reports, but you say 260 m whats correct.

    As for IAC 2 nuclear reactor & EMALS should be preferred option but then the size should be way more than the speculated 65000 ton but the issue is can DRDO/DAE develop such such big reactor that too withour Russian help!!

    What are your opinion about the points i raised


    Joydeep Ghosh

  4. I second what Joydeep said about IMS Vikrant. There is not much awareness about it in the general public, and it would be good to have the media highlight the issue. In my last visit to Mumbai, I badly wanted to visit the Vikrant, but no one knew much about it at my hotel, and the Navy officer I ran into at the Gateway said it is open only 2 days a week or so. Disappointing, for such an illustrious piece of modern Indian history!

    How much will it really cost to maintain it, compared to the mountains of cash the GoI spends on useless freebies and subsidies?

    When I was young, the Navy did not rank in my list of career options, simply due to lack of awareness. Our movies also showcase the Army, and maybe the IAF, but not much about the Navy.

    More efforts such as the submarine museum at Vizag, the proposed sub museum at Mamamllapuram, and the IMS Vikrant are needed to attract more youth and spark their imagination. Of course, the same applies to Army tanks or Air Force jets, but haven't heard of any such efforts recently.

  5. I hope the navy is not just contend with Self-Reliance which essentially means imitating systems built by others and push towards innovation also... If a tiny island like England can invent an aircraft carrier, ski jump, Harrier jet, battle tanks and numerous other systems so can we, if we are determined enough.... We can copy Russia model which took competition with US as a major inspiration to compete, build and innovate... How about Chinese for starters ? Why not compete with and make sure that we are ahead of China in everything, Aircraft carriers, missiles, jets, space, cars and even in economy...
    A focused and strong leadership can definitely do so even with democratic constraint...

  6. @ RD,

    "It may have been done for election campaign"

    There is no reason to add 'may' in that statement. It is undeniably done with that in mind among other reasons. Anyhow, most governments play such cheap tactics to hard-sell it as 'their' success story and cover up all the scams that haunt them. Despite I am 200% pro-BJP, I think had BJP been in power, they would have done the same thing, perhaps with even more brouhaha. Sadly we r light years away from having sane minds in politics that keep 'national interest' and 'personal interest' apart and keep working quietly (advancing both) as the Chinese politburo members.

  7. Lets not quibble about announcements and ceremonies. This is the tradition over centuries all over the world whether you launch a skiff or nuclear carrier hull. It is a red letter day for the country to take pride in its indigenous design and manufacture. I notice that of the 48 warships on order, 47 are being produced in India! Even nuclear power and space dont have that level of indigenisation, and they have been at it longer!

  8. sir,
    It has been widely publicised in recent times that the RN might sell one of its two queen elizabeth class carriers under construction;the final decision is set to be taken during their 2015 strategic defence reveiw.

    In my opinion,the IN would find a good deal in buying it,if offered for sale, as it would not include the risks associated with designing and building a ship from ground up.

  9. Hey Mr. Shukla,

    I've read reports that the IAC cost $5 billion US+ to build so far. Is that true?? Would you be able to shed some light on this topic?

  10. @SP
    " it would not include the risks associated with designing and building a ship from ground up."

    Since when trying to learn and achieve self reliance is considered as risk... ufff... People.....

  11. Sir, imagine if Mrs Anthony coconut had damaged the hull, SAIL would have sunk, no ? Thanks God it did not happen. Curious Bangali

  12. dear annon @19.36,

    i appreciate your comments on my thoughts.might i remind you that this learning course u are talking about is quite an expensive one and the risks traditionnally involved with projects are extensive delays and cost growths.planning such projects takes tym,especially for a novice which we definitely are in this field.I was thus suggesing that IN consider accuiring one of the CVFs as a low risk option. the developement of our futurecarriers can continue simultaneously.This option if taken up gives us ample time to sit down and a second better carrier based on operational experience aboard vikrant.

  13. The navy should have concrete plans on projected CVBG formations for the future (post INS Vikrant) before finalisation of IAC-2 design and subsequent production of the carrier and follow on units of the same class. Going nuclear is a good option and I'm sure our "technological development partner" can help us build a reactor powerful enough for this.

    There is much talk and speculation of the N-LCA to be based on our carriers but I for one am not impressed with it's limited payload and small combat radius and fail to see what specific role it will play.
    What is really needed is a fast aircraft with heavy payload and deep strike capability for expeditionary missions as I am sure our CVBGs are deemed/projected for such purpose. Otherwise, we have plenty of land based aircraft to protect out shores.

    The Kolkata class DDGs are supposedly to be very well armed in a multi role configuration and the follow on P-15Bs may perhaps be even better equipped as air defence ships. These along with the P-17A FFGs and P-28As and a couple of SSK/SSGN would make the ideal escorts for our CVBGs.
    Production of the aforementioned warships should be hastened and perhaps even contracted to private shipyards for construction of key components if the MoD is wary of awarding full execution due to confidentiality of combat and electronic warfare systems etc.

    Also, whatever happened to the RFP for the 4 LHDs? I for one find the Juan Carlos-I most interesting simply for the fact that it supports STOVL. F-35Bs for IN in future?


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