Today's Editorial - 26 August 2022
Why does an aircraft carrier matter?
Source: By The Indian Express
The Indian Navy on 28 July 2022 took delivery of IAC-1, the nation’s first indigenously built aircraft carrier from its manufacturer, Cochin Shipyard Ltd. The carrier, which after commissioning will be called ‘Vikrant’, has been handed over to the Navy ahead of schedule. The commissioning is likely to take place on Independence Day.
The aircraft carrier, which successfully completed its fourth and final phase of sea trials three weeks ago, puts India in an elite club of nations that have the capability to design and build these giant, powerful warships. “A momentous day in the Indian Maritime History & indigenous shipbuilding coinciding with #AzadiKaAmritMahotsav,” the Indian Navy spokesperson posted on Twitter.
Why is it important for India to have an aircraft carrier?
An aircraft carrier is one of the most potent marine assets for any nation, which enhances a Navy’s capability to travel far from its home shores to carry out air domination operations.
Many experts consider having an aircraft carrier as essential to be considered a “blue water” navy — that is, a navy that has the capacity to project a nation’s strength and power across the high seas.
An aircraft carrier generally leads as the capital ship of a carrier strike/ battle group. As the aircraft carrier is a prized and sometimes vulnerable target, it is usually escorted in the group by destroyers, missile cruisers, frigates, submarines, and supply ships.
And why is it a big deal that this warship has been Made in India?
Only five or six nations currently have the capability of manufacturing an aircraft carrier, and India has joined this prestigious club now. Experts and Navy officials said India has demonstrated the capacity and self-reliance to build what is considered to be one of the most advanced and complex battleships in the world.
India has had aircraft carriers earlier too — but those were built either by the British or the Russians. The ‘INS Vikramaditya’, which was commissioned in 2013 and which is currently the Navy’s only aircraft carrier, started out as the Soviet-Russian warship ‘Admiral Gorshkov’.
India’s two earlier carriers, the ‘INS Vikrant’ and the ‘INS Viraat’, were originally the British-built ‘HMS Hercules’ and ‘HMS Hermes’. These two warships were commissioned into the Navy in 1961 and 1987 respectively.
According to the Navy, over 76 per cent of the material and equipment on board IAC-1 is indigenous. This includes 23,000 tonnes of steel, 2,500 km of electric cables, 150 km of pipes, and 2,000 valves, and a wide range of finished products including rigid hull boats, galley equipment, airconditioning and refrigeration plants, and steering gear.
The Navy has said earlier that more than 50 Indian manufacturers were directly involved in the project, and about 2,000 Indians received direct employment on board IAC-1 every day. Over 40,000 others were employed indirectly.
The Navy has calculated that about 80-85 per cent of the project cost of approximately Rs 23,000 crore has been ploughed back into the Indian economy.
Why will this new warship be named ‘INS Vikrant’?
IAC-1 — as the carrier is currently codenamed — has been designed by the Indian Navy’s Directorate of Naval Design (DND), and built at Cochin Shipyard Limited (CSL), a public sector shipyard under the Ministry of Shipping.
Once commissioned, it will be called ‘INS Vikrant’, the name that originally belonged to India’s much-loved first aircraft carrier, a source of immense national pride over several decades of service before it was decommissioned in 1997.
The original ‘Vikrant’, a Majestic-class 19,500-tonne warship, which was acquired from the UK in 1961, played a stellar role in the 1971 War with Pakistan. India deployed the ‘Vikrant’ in the Bay of Bengal, and its two air squadrons of Sea Hawk fighter jets and Alize surveillance aircraft were used in strikes on ports, merchant ships, and other targets, and to prevent Pakistani forces from escaping through maritime routes.
Last year, as the IAC-1 started her first sea trial, the Navy hailed the “proud and historic day for India as the reincarnated ‘Vikrant’ sails for her maiden sea trials…, in the 50th year of her illustrious predecessor’s key role in victory in the 1971 war”.
What weapons and equipment will the new ‘Vikrant’ have?
The new warship is comparable to India’s existing carrier ‘INS Vikramaditya’, which is a 44,500-tonne vessel and can carry up to 34 aircraft, including both fighter jets and helicopters.
The Navy had earlier said that once commissioned, IAC-1 will be “the most potent sea-based asset”, which will operate the Russian-made MiG-29K fighter aircraft and Kamov-31 Air Early Warning Helicopters, both of which are already in use on the ‘Vikramaditya’.
The new ‘Vikrant’ will also operate the soon-to-be-inducted MH-60R Seahawk multirole helicopter manufactured by the American aerospace and defence company Lockheed Martin, and the Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) built by Bengaluru-based Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.
According to the Navy, the warship will offer an “incomparable military instrument with its ability to project Air Power over long distances, including Air Interdiction, Anti-Surface Warfare, offensive and defensive Counter-Air, Airborne Anti-Submarine Warfare and Airborne Early Warning”.
Now that India has shown the capability, will it build more carriers?
Since 2015, the Navy has been seeking approval to build a third aircraft carrier for the country, which, if approved, will become India’s second Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC-2). This proposed carrier, to be named ‘INS Vishal’, is intended to be a giant 65,000-tonne vessel, much bigger than both IAC-1 and the ‘INS Vikramaditya’.
The Navy has been trying to convince the government of the “operational necessity” of having a third carrier. Former Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Karambir Singh had said that the Navy could not remain a “tethered force”. Navy officials have argued that to project power, it is essential that India is able to venture far out on the oceans, which can be done best with an aircraft carrier.
For the government to be convinced of the need for IAC-2, however, a “change in mindset” is required, sources in the Navy had told The Indian Express earlier. The former Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat had spoken against investing in another aircraft carrier, and had suggested that the Lakshadweep and Andaman & Nicobar islands could instead be developed as “unsinkable” naval assets.
But Navy officials have said that to defend the vast Indian Ocean Region, persistent air power is required day and night. A third carrier will provide the Navy with surge capability, which will be essential in the future, they have argued.
Also, it is argued that now that India has developed the capability to build such vessels, it should not be whittled away. The expertise gained by the Navy and the country over the past 60 years in the “art of maritime aviation” should not be wasted either.
While the United States Navy has 11 aircraft carriers, China too is moving ahead aggressively with its aircraft carrier programme. It has two carriers now, a third is in the making, and another two are likely to be commissioned within a decade.
Navy officials point out that even if India gives the IAC-2 project the go-ahead now, it will be over 10 years before the warship is commissioned.