Kochi August 12;India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier Vikrant was launched from Kochi on Monday, catapulting the country to a select elite club of nations who can design and build 40,000-tonnes aircraft carrier.
In keeping with the global naval traditions, the warship was launched by Elizabeth Antony, wife of Defence Minister A. K. Antony at Cochin Shipyard Limited as she broke a coconut and christened it Vikrant. The Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral D. K. Joshi, Union Shipping Minister G. K. Vasan, Chairman of Cochin Shipyard Commodore K. Subramaniam and ministers from Kerala were present at the launch ceremony.
The indigenous aircraft carrier was named after Vikrant, the first aircraft carrier acquired by the Indian Navy in 1961 which played a decisive role in the 1971 Indo-Pak war. It was decommissioned after 36 years of service in January 1997. The new Vikrant which touched the waters on Monday will undergo outfitting till 2016 after which the warship will go for basin trials and extensive sea trials. It is likely to be commissioned sometime in 2018. With the Russian Admiral Gorshkov, now named Vikramaditya, joining the Navy by this year-end, the Indian Navy which already has 28,000-tonne INS Viraat, will be able to operate two aircraft carriers simultaneously.
“The launching of the indigenous aircraft carrier marks just the first step in a long journey, but at the same time an important one”, Defence Minister A. K. Antony said at the launch ceremony. He said said it was a proud moment for the country in terms of achieving self-reliance in warship design and construction as only a handful advanced countries in the world have such capabilities to build aircraft carriers.
Stressing the need for a strong and vigilant Navy to defend the country’s mainland and off-shore assets and exclusive economic zone by maintaining sea lanes of communication, he said the Navy must “continue to maintain high operational readiness at all times to ward off any likely misadventure against our national interests”.
Noting that the Navy, over the years, has made a distinct shift from a buyer’s Navy to a builder’s Navy, Mr. Antony urged the Indian industry to participate whole-heartedly in shipbuilding programmes. He said that apart from the indigenous aircraft carrier Cochin Shipyard has orders for 25 ships, consisting of platform support vessels for international clients, fast patrol vessels for the Indian Coast Guard. Mindful of his presence in his home State, the Defence Minister said the achievement of the shipyard reflects the new era of industrial growth in Kerala and pointed out that his ministry has already initiated a number of high-valued, technology intensive defence sector projects in Kerala.
Lauding the big boost of the Navy in its capabilities, the Navy Chief Admiral Joshi said 60 per cent of ships and submarines being built for the Navy were being constructed in Indian shipyards. Out of 47 warships, destroyers, and other vessels on order, 46 were being built at defence public sector or private shipyards in the country, Admiral Joshi said.
With the launch of Vikrant, all parts of the Navy’s modernisation plan are falling in place. The launch of the indigenous aircraft carrier came within days of the country’s first indigenous nuclear submarine Arihant’s mini-nuclear reactor going critical. This year the Navy has pressed into service P8I aircraft from the U.S. to keep surveillance, and is scheduled to get Kolkata class destroyer and P28 ASW Corvette as well.
The design and construction of the indigenous aircraft carrier was sanctioned in January 2003 and the keel of the ship was laid on February 28, 2009 by Mr. Antony. The IAC project was fraught with many challenges and it is the first warship to be built entirely using indigenously produced steel, developed by the SAIL and defence metallurgical research lab.
“In the construction of IAC, a total of 26,000 tonne of steel plates were used, All the requirement was met by SAIL plants and plates can withstand good low temperatures, corrosion and have high strength”, said SAIL Chairman C. S. Verma.
When operational, Vikrant will be capable of operating an aircraft mix of the Russian MiG-29K and Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) fighters being developed by HAL. Its helicopter component will include the Kamov 31 and indigenously developed ALH. The aircraft carrier will have long range surface to air missile and close in weapon system. It will be equipped with the most modern C/D bank early warning radar, tactical air navigational and direction finding systems. The 262-metre-long and 62-metre-wide Vikrant has a flight deck area of the size of two football fields. The power generated in the warship can light the entire city of Kochi and the length of cabling is nearly 2700 km which can stretch from Kochi to Delhi. The carrier will have a complement of 1600 personnel.