India makes power play with new aircraft carrier

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi hold a replica of a brick during the India-Japan Annual Summit, in Gandhinagar, India, September 14, 2017. REUTERS/Amit Dave

NEW DELHI – India will commission its first domestically built aircraft carrier, the INS Vikrant, on Sept. 2, 2022, the Indian Navy has announced.

Alongside the INS Vikramaditya, which was purchased from Russia, India will now have two aircraft carriers in its fleet.

The new commission is seen as part of India’s efforts to bolster its navy as it keeps a watchful eye on China, which launched its third aircraft carrier in June.

The Vikrant is 262 meters long, 62 meters wide and has a displacement of 43,000 tons. Construction began in 2009 and it was launched in 2013, with repeated sea trials since August 2021.

This will be the second Indian aircraft carrier named Vikrant. The first Vikrant came from the United Kingdom and was retired in the 1990s.

The new Vikrant uses a ski-jump ramp system for takeoffs. Unlike U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, it does not employ catapults, with which heavy aircraft can take off in a short amount of time.

Able to carry 30 aircraft, such as Russian-built MiG-29 fighters, test flights with the Vikrant could start as early as November.

According to the Hindustan Times newspaper, the Indian government is also considering purchasing F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter-attack aircraft from the United States and Rafale fighter jets from France.

China’s naval capability is the driving force behind India’s desire to bolster its sea power.

Beijing’s two commissioned carriers, the Liaoning and Shandong, were joined in June by a third such vessel, the Fujian, which is equipped with electromagnetic catapults that facilitate short-interval takeoffs of heavily loaded aircraft. The three-carrier system will allow China to continually operate at least one vessel as part of a three-ship rotation covering missions, training and maintenance, as it steadily approaches a stable posture.

The Chinese military is thought to be planning to dispatch the vessels to Taiwan in the case of a contingency, and besides that, deploy its carriers to the Indian Ocean, which has a number of key sea-lanes.

India is becoming increasingly vigilant as China makes advances into the Indian Ocean. China’s maritime activities there have been expanding. For example, Beijing recently acquired rights in the southern Sri Lankan port of Hambantota and docked a military-affiliated research ship there earlier this month.

A senior Indian Defense Ministry official told The Yomiuri Shimbun that New Delhi needs to increase its aircraft carrier fleet to protect sea-lanes in the Indian Ocean from disruption, adding that it is looking into a third carrier to achieve maritime parity with Beijing.



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