IAC-1, India’s first indigenously-built aircraft carrier, was handed over to the Navy by the warship’s manufacturer, Cochin Shipyard Ltd (CSL), on July 28. Though the carrier will not be battle-ready for a few years yet, it signifies India’s ambitions to possess a navy that is capable of projecting power far beyond her own shores.
The 262-metre long and 62-metre wide ship is not just the largest warship ever to be built in India, it is also India’s most ambitious naval vessel project. With a capacity to operate 30 fixed and rotary wing airborne platforms, the IAC-1 will be christened ‘Indian Naval Ship (INS) Vikrant’ on its commissioning after its illustrious predecessor, India’s first aircraft carrier. It has an indigenous content of around 76 per cent and has been built at a cost of about Rs. 23,000 crore.
Officials disclosed that the commissioning of the IAC-1 will most likely take place on August 15, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of India’s independence. Once commissioned, the IAC-1 will result in the increased deployment of Indian Naval assets both within and outside the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
The successful completion of sea trials and the handing over of the IAC-1 to the Navy puts India in a select group of nations that possess the niche capability to indigenously design, build and integrate a state-of-the art aircraft carrier. The handing over of the IAC-1 is yet another pointer to India moving away from its erstwhile “continental mind set” to one that embraces the power and reach of the Indian Navy.
According to the Navy, the IAC-1 will offer an “incomparable military instrument with its ability to project air power over long distances, including air interdiction, anti-surface warfare, offensive and defensive counter-air ops, airborne anti-submarine warfare, and enhanced airborne early warning capabilities”.
The IAC-1 was designed by the Indian Navy’s Directorate of Naval Design (DND) and built by CSL, a public sector shipyard under the Ministry of Shipping. The genesis for an indigenously built carrier goes back to 1999, when the then Defence Minister George Fernandes authorised the development and construction of an aircraft carrier under the nomenclature Project 71 Air Defence Ship (ADS).
First sanctioned by the government in January 2003, it was announced in August 2006 that the designation for the vessel had been changed to Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC). Floated out of its dry dock in December 2011, the IAC-1 was launched in August 2013, with basin trials being completed in December 2020. Though the Navy has been conducting extensive sea trials of the IAC-1 over the last 12 months, flight trials of its aviation assets from its deck will only commence in late 2022.
While the acceptance of the IAC-1 into its fold catapults the Indian Navy into an elite band of nations, it still falls far short of China, with the world’s largest navy (355 warships and submarines as compared to India’s 130-warships), or the United States Navy, which has 11 ‘super’ 100,000-tonne nuclear-powered carriers.
India’s first three carriers (two have been decommissioned) have all been retrofitted. While INS Vikrant, originally the British-built HMS Hercules, was commissioned in 1961, INS Viraat, originally HMS Hermes was commissioned into the Navy in 1987. India’s has only one aircraft carrier presently, the 44,500-tonne INS Vikramaditya, originally of the Soviet and Russian Navies which was inducted from Russia and retrofitted for $2.33 billion in November 2013. India spent another $2 billion to fit INS Vikramaditya with 45 Russian origin MiG-29Ks. The Navy has been impressing on the “operational necessity” of having a third carrier, the IAC-2.