The Indian Navy owned an aircraft carrier 50 years before China, but it seems that India is now far behind Beijing. Why is this happening?
If India’s first domestic aircraft carrier Vikrant is put into service, the Indian Navy will have two modern aircraft carriers. And at least one carrier can suspend service for maintenance or repair at any time.
However, the timing of Vikrant’s commissioning remains unclear, although it is scheduled to be in early 2023. This is a big delay compared to the original plan of the Indian Navy, which is that Vikrant will enter service by 2021.
The reason for the delay is attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic, which negatively affected the construction and testing of Vikrant. That means depending on the situation of the Covid-19 pandemic, the commissioning of Vikrant may be further delayed.
Comparing the development of aircraft carriers between India and China shows that the two projects have different starting points and strategic objectives. However, it is necessary to compare the two carrier programs between India and China, to see how slow the Indian program is. India and China are two geopolitical rivals in the Indo-Pacific region.
As of 2010, China and India have never built warships larger than 40,000 tons, and have never built aircraft carriers. However, India has owned aircraft carriers for a long time. In 1961, India bought the INS Vikrant R11 aircraft carrier from the UK – formerly the Dignity-class aircraft carrier, and since then, the Indian Navy has always owned the aircraft carrier.
In 1987, India had a second carrier, the INS Viraat, also purchased from the UK. After the Vikrant was officially decommissioned in 1997, India was left with only the carrier INS Viraat, and it was decommissioned in 2017.
Compared to India, China is much behind. Before the Liaoning aircraft carrier acquired from Ukraine in 2012, China had no aircraft carriers. According to reports, it took four years to repair and upgrade Liaoning to become operational. During this period, China built a second aircraft carrier, the Shandong, which entered service in 2019.