Tuesday, June 18, 2024

INS Vikrant: The Indian Navy’s New Aircraft Carrier (Part-1)

By Admiral Sunil Lanba (r) 

Adm. Sunil Lanba (r), Former Chief of the Naval Staff

The historic commissioning ceremony of INS Vikrant on 2 September 2022 has taken the IN into a new era in its journey in the service of the nation & its reputation as a ‘Builder’s Navy.’ INS Vikrant’s induction as a flagship aircraft carrier is storied with decades of history, the depth of which will be extensively explored in part 2 of this article in the next edition. 

It has been quite the voyage for the IN in its quest toward self-reliance in warship design & construction since the commissioning of INS Nilgiri, the first Leander class frigate, in 1972. Over the years, the IN’s in-house designers at the DND have joined hands with Indian DPSU/PSU shipyards as well as private shipyards to build over 90 ships of 19 different designs ranging from Seaward Defence Boats, Patrol Crafts, Survey Vessels, Landing Crafts, Frigates, Destroyers, & now INS Vikrant.

Naval designers, with their legacy knowledge of over five decades of in-house warship design, conducted key design evolutions of INS Vikrant, such as the development of hull form, scaled model studies, detailed structural analysis using modern software, & aerodynamic & CFD analysis for safe air operations. The ship has been designed with a high degree of automation for machinery operation, ship navigation & survivability. 

The keel of the ship was laid in 2009. One of the reasons for the initial delay was the decision to construct the vessel with marine-grade steel developed & produced in India. Indigenous marine grade steel DMR 249 was developed & used in her construction. Over 21,000 tonnes of steel have been supplied by SAIL for the carrier from its Rourkela, Bhilai & Durgapur plants. As a spinoff, all IN warships are now being built using this indigenous steel. 

INS Vikrant can lay claims to many innovations; the aircraft carrier is the most complex shipbuilding project ever undertaken in India. Several machinery & subsystems have been developed in the country. Tata Power Strategic Engineering Division has developed the ship’s CMS. 

It is the first CMS developed by a private company for the IN. Indian companies have supplied the entire electrical cabling. The construction of the indigenous carrier has also contributed immensely to the nation’s economy. It has over 76% of indigenous content, besides work by CSL, & their subcontractors have been directly invested back into the Indian economy. Around 550 Indian firms, including about 100 MSMEs, are registered with CSL, which has provided various services for constructing the IAC. 

Almost all leading Indian industrial houses, both public & private, viz. BHEL, BEL, HAL, L&T, Wartsila, Kirloskar etc., have contributed to the building of INS Vikrant. This has led to growth in indigenous design & construction capabilities, besides developing many ancillary industries. The ability to design, construct & outfit a complex ship has been demonstrated. This capability needs to be nurtured & not frittered away.

The ship was launched in 2013. The ship’s propulsion & Power Generation equipment/systems were tested in the harbour as part of Basin Trials in November 2020. Despite challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic & fluctuating global scenario, the carrier had undergone a series of Sea Trials between August 2021 & July 2022 before its commissioning to prove the functionality of all onboard equipment & systems. Successful completion of trials of the aircraft carrier, despite being a first-time process for the shipyard, is testimony to the dedicated efforts of many stakeholders for over a decade. 

INS Vikrant displaces about 40,000-tonne, 262 metres in length & 62 metres wide; she can operate around 35 aircraft. With over 2,300 compartments spread across 14 decks, her crew will comprise 1,700 personnel. Powered by four gas turbines, with a top speed of 28 knots & endurance of about 7,500 nautical miles, she has been designed to operate both fighters & helicopters (an assortment of fixed-wing & rotary-wing aircraft). 

Now that INS Vikrant has been commissioned, there is an urgent need to focus on her Air Wing. The Navy’s case for a deck-based fighter needs to be urgently processed as the current strength of MiG-29K cannot provide the numbers required to embark on two operational aircraft carriers. 

With AMCA being more than a decade in the future, there is no option other than to import the F/A-18 Super Hornet or Rafale Marine carrier-based fighters to fill the gap. There is also an urgent need to increase the number of multi-role helicopters in the Navy’s inventory. The 24 MH-60Rs will not provide the numbers needed for the two aircraft carriers, destroyers & frigates. The commissioning of Vikrant will now add to the Navy’s capability for blue water operations across the Indo-Pacific Ocean.

Adm. Lanba (r) served as the Indian Navy’s 23rd Chief of the Naval Staff

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