India invested heavily in the INS Vikrant aircraft carrier, although its tactical capabilities proved to be relatively limited.
Is this just the country’s first step in the field of aircraft carrier construction, or is it a waste? With INS Vikrant, India has joined the club of world naval powers. Although she is yet to be fully serviced for another 12 to 18 months, she is already seen as a key component of India’s drive to be self-reliant in defense manufacturing.
INS Vikrant wasn’t India’s first carrier, as the Asian nation has operated carriers for more than 60 years. In fact, in 1961, India became the first so-called “third world” nation to acquire and operate an aircraft carrier when it purchased a retired Royal Navy Majestic-class carrier, which was re-commissioned as the first INS Vikrant. That ship went on to play a crucial role in the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War when it was used during a blockade on all shipping between the eastern and western parts of Pakistan.
INS Vikrant will join INS Vikramaditya, a modified Kiev-class aircraft cruiser that had served with the Soviet Navy, and which was sold to India following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The two carriers will allow India to increase its force projection in the Indo-Pacific region, notably the Indian Ocean – and most importantly to deter China from challenging it in what is essentially New Delhi’s “maritime backyard.”
Even so, some have questioned whether the new aircraft carrier of the Indian Navy is really effective, considering the cost of nearly 3 billion USD. The INS Vikran is significantly smaller than the Type 003 Fujian – Beijing’s newest aircraft carrier, it’s not even on par with the previous generation Type 002, which is basically just a bit more than modified designs from the Soviet era.
The Indian carrier also took years to develop and was delayed by nearly a decade due to cost issues. The ship was started construction in 2009 and took nearly 13 years to complete. As a result of those delays, much of the technology used on the ship is on the verge of obsolescence as the ship has not even officially entered service.
The biggest disadvantage of Indian carriers lies in the design of the ski-jump system, which requires the jets to launch under their own power, and also limited the amount of fuel, missiles and bombs that the fighter could carry. Another problem is that India still lacks a modern fighter to deploy from its aircraft carrier. New Delhi continues to rely on the Russian-built MiG-29K/KUB, of which only a few have entered service.
However, in the same way that China did with the Type 002, the INS Vikrant can be seen as an important stepping stone to more advanced designs. India still has a lot of work to do, but unfortunately for New Delhi, China has proven much more powerful in designing such massive warships.
To really balance China, India is looking to its next aircraft carrier. Currently, there is a debate raging in New Delhi over the proposed Indigenous Aircraft Carrier INS Vishal, which could be significantly larger in size and displacement. It could also be equipped with an Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System, CATOBAR system is also under consideration. Some in the Indian government see it as another expensive vanity project.