Monday, 8 July 2013

India's first homegrown aircraft carrier set for 'launch'!

India's first indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC), being built at the Cochin Shipyard, will finally "be launched into water" next month. But don't be in a hurry to pop the bubbly. The already long-delayed 40,000-tonne warship will not become operational anytime before 2018.

The IAC - to be christened INS Vikrant after the country's first carrier acquired from the UK in 1961 and later retired in 1997 - will be "launched with a weight of 20,000-tonne" at a ceremony to be chaired by defence minister A K Antony in Kochi on August 12.

"The launch signifies the underwater work and fitting of machinery in the warship is over. Now, the superstructure, the upper decks and the out-fittings will be done,'' said an official.

"We hope the IAC will be ready for trials from 2016 onwards. The trials will take well over one year since this is the first time the country is building an aircraft carrier,'' he added.

The 260-metre-long IAC, with a crew of 160 officers and 1,400 sailors, is supposed to carry 12 MiG-29Ks, eight Tejas Light Combat Aircraft and 10 anti-submarine and reconnaissance helicopters on its 2.5-acre flight deck and hangars. Powered by four American LM2500 gas turbines, the IAC will have an endurance of around 7,500 nautical miles at a speed of 18 knots.

But the huge delays in both the IAC project as well as the 44,570-tonne INS Vikramaditya - or the Admiral Gorshkov carrier that just began its sea trials after a $2.33 billion refit in Russia - has derailed the Navy's long-standing aim to operate two full-fledged carrier battle groups (CBGs).

INS Vikramaditya will now be ready only by end-2013 instead of the original induction schedule of August, 2008. The IAC, in turn, was first sanctioned in 2003. But its keel was laid only in February 2009, with the ''launch'' date then being fixed for October, 2010. The huge time and cost overruns in the IAC project has also meant that the plan for a 65,000-tonne IAC-II remains merely on the drawing board at present.

Consequently, the Navy will be forced to operate its solitary and ageing carrier, the 28,000-tonne INS Viraat, till at least 2016. Currently undergoing yet another life-extension refit, the 54-year-old INS Viraat is left with just 11 Sea Harrier jump-jets to operate from its deck. The 45 MiG-29K naval fighters, being procured from Russia for over $2 billion, can operate only from Vikramaditya and IAC.

This when CBGs, capable of travelling 600 nautical miles a day with accompanying destroyers, frigates, submarines, tankers, fighters and other aircraft, are considered very effective at projecting offensive power as well as taking the battle to the enemy.

The US, incidentally, has as many as 11 CBGs - with each carrier being over 94,000-tonne and capable of carrying 80-90 fighters - prowling the high seas around the globe. China, too, is pursuing an active carrier building programme after inducting its first carrier, the 65,000-tonne Liaoning, last September.

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