With the commissioning of INS Vikrant, India will join a list of select few nations which have the capability to build aircraft carriers. INS Vikrant is India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier and compares with China’s Fujian class. Intense debate is going on about whether India needs more aircraft carriers or submarines. Experts opine India needs two operational carriers so that both east and west coasts of India are well guarded

India will soon add to its Naval muscle as ‘INS Vikrant’, after successfully completing its fourth phase of sea trials, is ready to be commissioned in the Indian Navy on the nation’s Independence Day.

Codenamed IAC-1, India’s largest indigenous warship weighs 44,000 tons. The INS Vikrant has been designed by the Indian Navy’s Directorate of Naval Design (DND) and was built at Cochin Shipyard Limited (CSL), a public sector shipyard, which falls under the Ministry of Shipping.

India has only one aircraft carrier as of today – the INS Vikramaditya. It is of Russian origin. The IAC-1 is built at a cost of Rs 23,000 crore and is named after India’s first aircraft carrier INS Vikrant, a 19,500-tonne warship operated by the Navy from 1961 and decommissioned in 1997. It played a crucial role in the 1971 Indo-Pak war.

The IAC-1 will be the fourth aircraft carrier to be operated by Indian Navy. India bought INS Vikrant and INS Viraat from the UK and commissioned them in 1961 and 1987 respectively. INS Vikramaditya was bought from Russia in 2013 and belongs to the Kiev class of carriers. INS Vikrant will operate MiG-29K fighter jets, Kamov-31 helicopters and MH-60R multi-role helicopters.

Aircraft carriers are command and control vessels that also double as mobile airbases. However, they are not just tools of war. They serve a function of military diplomacy as well.

India has a coastline of about 7,500 km. The country is surrounded by the Bay of Bengal in the east, the Arabian Sea in the west, and the Indian Ocean to the south.

The fact that INS Vikrant is made in India gives it all the more edge and adds credibility to India’s make-in-India push. The earlier aircraft carriers were either built by the British or the Russians. With the commissioning of the Vikrant, India will join a list of select few nations — the US, the UK, Russia, France and China — which have the capability to build aircraft carriers.

The length of the INS Vikrant is said to be 262 metres, its height is 59m while its width is 62m. It reportedly has 14 decks and 2,300 compartments.

Debate On 3rd Carrier

Intense debate is going on about whether India needs more aircraft carriers or submarines. The Indian Navy has 15 conventional submarines as of now and it also possesses one nuclear ballistic missile submarine, the (SSBN) INS Arihant.

The need for a third aircraft carrier is also a point of discussion. It is said the third carrier can ensure two are always battle-ready while one undergoes maintenance. Reports suggest that the Indian Navy has readied the blueprint for another indigenously made aircraft carrier IAC-2, or INS Vishal.

The Navy feels a third aircraft carrier is an operational necessity. However, the late Chief of Defence Staff, General Bipin Rawat had felt that the Navy did not need aircraft carriers. The Navy disagrees.

Admiral Shekhar Sinha while talking to News9 said India must build one more carrier to get the total number to three.

“At present, we have just one aircraft carrier. Any maintenance will render it non available in terms of air power at sea and therefore Air Defence & Air superiority in the Indian Ocean. India needs two operational carriers at any given time for security on Eastern and Western seaboards. That implies that a total of three carriers will ensure the availability of two active and one in maintenance. Thereafter the replacements must be built well in time before any of the three carriers is nearing the end of service life.”

In fact, submarines and aircraft carriers play a crucial role in wars. The aircraft carriers can prove to be instrumental in taking the war to the enemy’s patch, submarines are known for their stealth and the ability to carry out lone-wolf attacks.

“The debate of submarines versus carriers is an old one. Each type of platform has a specific role to play and therefore it must not be seen as either-or. It’s like saying that legs be used as hands,” Admiral Sinha said.

“Navies are required to be developed as a five-dimensional force. Surface, sub-surface, air, space & Cyber. There is no choice if we have to be a regional power,” the Admiral added.

Captain DK Sharma, former Spokesperson Navy said India’s requirement is for three carriers, “If you look at the bigger plans we have always been working towards it. If you go back in history, the first aircraft carrier came sometime in the 60s and it was available towards the 1971 war and then after that in 1987, we got the second carrier, Viraat. Both of them operated together. When the first one was laid off, the approval for the replacement carriers were already in place. That is what came as Vikramaditya in 2014.”

He stressed the need for having one more aircraft carrier. “We have laid off Viraat in 2017 and we were in dire need of one more carrier so that both east and west coasts of India are well guarded. We will have two operational carriers now, one is INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant. Plans for the third one are still being worked on.”

He went on to say, “Both, carriers and submarines, have specific roles to play, you can’t compare apples with oranges. People who know the Navy are very well versed with this aspect; they understand there has to be a very fine balance between all the assets whether it’s a submarine, a strategic submarine, an aircraft carrier or drones. I think we can leave that to the planners and our top leadership.”

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