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Key Features of Indian Aircraft Carriers


In a remarkable display of naval capability, the Indian Navy’s two aircraft carriers, INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant, recently conducted “twin carrier operations.” This involved simultaneous take-offs of MiG-29K fighter jets from both carriers, followed by cross-deck landings. Such operations highlight a unique capability possessed by only a select few nations and underscore India’s naval prowess.


GS III: Indigenization of Technology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Key Features of Indian Aircraft Carriers
  2. Challenges Associated with Indigenisation of Aircraft Carriers
  3. Significance of Carrier Aviation for India in Modern Strategic Terms

Key Features of Indian Aircraft Carriers

INS Vikrant:

  • First domestically built aircraft carrier with 76% indigenous content.
  • Constructed at Cochin Shipyard Limited, showcasing India’s shipbuilding capabilities.
  • Weighs around 43,000 tonnes, 262 meters long.
  • Prioritizes manoeuvrability, with a top speed of 28 knots.
  • Utilizes STOBAR method for precision operations in adverse conditions.
  • Incorporates latest advancements in design, sensors, and electronics.

INS Vikramaditya:

  • Modified Kiev-class carrier, originally built for the Soviet Navy.
  • Inducted into Indian Navy in 2013 after extensive refitting and modernization.
  • Weighs around 44,500 tonnes, 284 meters long.
  • Can reach speeds of up to 30 knots.
  • Carries similar arsenal of aircraft as INS Vikrant.
  • Still uses older technology compared to INS Vikrant.

Future Plans and Expansion

  • India plans to have four aircraft carrier battle groups (CBGs) to strengthen naval presence.
  • Indian Navy’s 15-year plan includes four fleet carriers and two light fleet carriers.
  • Indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vishal (IAC-3) to be built at Cochin Shipyard, similar to INS Vikrant.
Debate on Aircraft Carriers vs Submarines
  • Emerging debate among navies regarding focus on submarines or aircraft carriers due to technological developments.
  • Concerns raised about vulnerability of aircraft carriers due to advancements in anti-ship and anti-aircraft systems.
  • Economic costs of aircraft carriers are significant, limiting ability of countries to operate both submarines and carriers.
  • Submarines seen as better alternative due to stealth advantage and relatively lower cost compared to aircraft carriers.

Challenges Associated with Indigenisation of Aircraft Carriers:

Integration of Advanced Technologies:

  • Aircraft carrier construction involves integrating numerous advanced technologies across propulsion, combat management, and aviation systems.

Switching Launch Systems:

  • Initial plans for a catapult launch system (CATOBAR) were replaced with a ski-jump launch with arrested recovery (STOBAR) due to technological limitations.
  • While STOBAR is proven, it limits operational capabilities of heavier, advanced aircraft.

Time-Consuming Process:

  • Designing, procuring materials, and constructing a complex warship like an aircraft carrier is time-consuming.
  • Delays impact overall costs and strategic planning, as evidenced by the over two-decade delay in commissioning INS Vikrant (begun design work in 1999, commissioned in 2023).

Technological Advancements and Obsolescence:

  • Extended timelines may render some carrier aspects obsolete before completion due to rapid technological advancements.

Financial Investment:

  • Building an aircraft carrier is an expensive undertaking, requiring significant investment in materials, labor, and specialized technologies.

Skilled Workforce:

  • Construction necessitates a large pool of skilled workers proficient in various disciplines.

Reliance on Foreign Expertise:

  • India had to rely on foreign expertise and technology transfer for certain aspects of INS Vikrant’s construction, indicating the need for further development of the domestic shipbuilding industry.

Reliance on Foreign Suppliers:

  • Despite indigenous design, critical materials and components may still need to be imported, creating reliance on foreign suppliers.

Vulnerabilities in Geopolitical Tensions:

  • Dependence on imported materials like high-tensile steel and specialized electronics creates vulnerabilities in times of geopolitical tensions.

Significance of Carrier Aviation for India in Modern Strategic Terms:

Border Conflict Potential:

  • Provides strategic advantage in potential border conflicts, emphasizing the importance of robust aircraft carriers.

Historical Significance:

  • Highlighted during the 1971 operations for the liberation of Bangladesh, showcasing the crucial role of INS Vikrant’s aircraft in supporting land battles.

Protection of Merchant Shipping Routes:

  • Acts as primary naval asset for protecting merchant shipping routes vital for carrying strategic commodities to India during military conflicts.

Safeguarding Sea-Lines of Communication:

  • Crucial for safeguarding sea-lines of communication, particularly in light of concerns about energy imports through the Strait of Hormuz and China’s strategic presence in Gwadar port.

Asserting Influence in Indian Ocean Region (IOR):

  • Enables India to assert its influence and deter potential threats from extra-regional powers in the Indian Ocean and surrounding littoral region.

Protecting Overseas Interests:

  • Provides capability to safeguard India’s strategic interests overseas, particularly in Afro-Asian states facing political, socio-economic, and ethnic instabilities.

Defending Remote Island Territories:

  • Essential for defending remote island territories like Andaman and Nicobar Islands against potential foreign military occupation or claims due to vulnerability.

Enhanced Disaster Response:

  • Expands operational capabilities to respond to natural disasters in regional seas or littoral areas, providing essential services and logistical support akin to a floating city.

Versatility for Non-Military Missions:

  • Incorporation of modular concepts enhances versatility for non-military missions, enabling rapid deployment of specialized resources for specific humanitarian missions.

-Source: The Hindu

May 2024