India joined an elite league of the world’s naval powers on Friday, when it commissioned its first domestically built aircraft carrier, the INS Vikrant.
With the $3 billion Vikrant, India will join only a small number of nations with more than one aircraft carrier or helicopter carrier in service and become only the third country, after the UK and China, to have commissioned a domestically built aircraft carrier in the past three years.
The carrier has filled the nation with “new confidence,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at a ceremony marked by fanfare at the Cochin Shipyard in India’s southern Kerala state.
“The goal may be difficult. The challenges may be big. But when India makes up its mind, no goal is impossible,” Modi said, before boarding the carrier and unfurling the country’s new naval flag.
“Till now, this type of aircraft carrier was made only by developed countries. Today, India by entering this league has taken one more step towards becoming a developed nation,” Modi said, adding the Indo-Pacific region remained “a major security priority” for India.
John Bradford, senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said India’s commitment to the ship reflected its “long-term vision to maintaining a world-class naval force.”
“There are looming questions about the survivability of any carrier in the missile age, but major navies — including those of the US, Japan, China and the UK — are doubling down on their carrier investments. In this sense India is keeping in the race,” Bradford said.
With a displacement of around 40,000 tons, the Vikrant is slightly smaller than the Vikramaditya and the carriers of the US, China and UK though it is larger than Japan’s.
When its air wing becomes fully operational over the next few years, Vikrant will carry up to 30 aircraft, including MiG-29K fighter jets — to be launched from its ski-ramp style deck — and helicopters as well as defensive systems including surface-to-air missiles.
Powered by four gas turbine engines, its top speed is estimated at 32 mph (52 kph) with a range of 8,600 miles (13,890 kilometers).
“India is sending out the message that it has the power, it has the aircraft carriers and therefore the air power to dominate the distant reaches of the Indian Ocean,” said Ajai Shukla, a former Indian military officer turned defense analyst.
The Vikrant has a range of 8,600 miles (13,890 kilometers).
“India can both influence and coordinate potential security solutions to regional concerns. Having an open ocean capability naval task group to contribute adds to India’s clout and options. It needn’t join in a multilateral response but can do so, or establish a separate independent presence, if it chooses,” said Carl Schuster, a former US Navy captain who now teaches at Hawaii Pacific University.
The new carrier will enable India to take a bigger role in military exercises by the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or “Quad,” an informal alliance of the United States, Japan, Australia and India.