|Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC) Vikrant sets out for sea trials before commissioning in Kochi, on July 2, 2022; (ANI Photo)|
At a time when India is close to commissioning its 40,000-tonne indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC) Vikrant, which successfully completed its fourth phase of sea trials on July 10, the Chinese navy is speeding up sea trials of its 80,000-tonne aircraft carrier Fujian, launched on June 17.
Fujian, launched from the Jiangnan shipyard, is heading for multiple sea voyages and is scheduled to join the PLA Navy in early 2024. China had commissioned its first aircraft carrier, Liaoning, in 2012; the second carrier, Shandong, was commissioned in 2019. Shandong is the first Chinese-made carrier as Liaoning was rebuilt on an unfinished Ukrainian aircraft carrier.
The PLA Navy aims to have a fleet of over 10 aircraft carriers by 2050. Currently, a total of 41 aircraft carriers are in operation by 13 navies across the world. In 1961, India became the first Asian country to acquire an aircraft carrier when it got HMS Hercules from the UK. Yet, it is currently operating only a single aircraft carrier, the 45,000-tonne INS Vikramaditya bought from Russia. The fourth phase of sea trials of IAC Vikrant on July 10 saw most of its equipment and systems onboard being put to test. Built by the Cochin Shipyard, Vikrant will be delivered to the Indian Navy by the end of this month. The deadline for delivery of the warship was 2018, but there were delays due to problems in procuring aviation equipment from Russia.
Indian Navy officials say the maiden sea trials of Vikrant were completed in August last year, followed by the second and third phases of trials in October 2021 and January this year, respectively. “During the three phases of sea trials, endurance testing of propulsion machinery, electrical and electronic suites, deck machinery, lifesaving appliances, and the ship’s navigation and communication systems was undertaken,” said an Indian Navy official.
About 76 per cent of the aircraft carrier has indigenous content. This has given a boost to indigenous design and construction capabilities besides the development of a large number of ancillary industries, with employment opportunities for over 2,000 personnel at the Cochin Shipyard and about 12,000 people in ancillary units. With Vikrant, India enters the elite group of countries with indigenous aircraft carriers. The US, UK, Russia, China and France are the only other countries with capacity to design and build aircraft carriers weighing 40,000 tonnes and above. Given its length of 260 metres, the warship will have two take-off runways and a landing strip with capability to operate STOBAR (short take-off but arrested delivery) aircraft and a range of helicopters.
Navy authorities are in the process of finalising fighter jets to operate from the carrier. The Dassault Rafale-M (French) and Boeing F/A-18 (US) are considered to be the main contenders. The navy is expected to get 26 such fighter jets through an inter-governmental agreement. At the same time, India’s Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) is building a Twin-Engine Deck-Based Fighter (TEDBF) for aircraft carriers. The first test flight is expected by 2026 and induction by 2031.
Navy authorities are working out a date for the commissioning of IAC Vikrant, factoring in delays due to the monsoon and rough sea conditions. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to be the chief guest at the event, which is being targeted around August 15 to coincide with celebrations marking 75 years of India’s independence.