Admiral Sunil Lanba (r)
The last edition focused on the technical prowess and unparalleled indigenisation efforts put into INS Vikrant. This article continues to chronicle the journey, diving deep into naval history and recounting the thought process that went into what became India’s first Indigenous Aircraft Carrier – INS Vikrant!
It has been a long journey for the Indian Navy in the journey of self-reliance in warship design and construction since the commissioning of INS Nilgiri, the first Leander class frigate, in 1972. Over the years, the Indian Navy’s in-house designers at the Directorate of Naval Design 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, and now an IAC.
The design and construction of an aircraft carrier hold a unique position of strategic and technological eminence and are rightly considered the pinnacle in the warship design and construction domain. INS Vikrant is the country’s largest and most complex warship ever designed and built. The successful delivery of INS Vikrant is the true testimony to the vision of self-reliance of the Indian Navy and the nation’s quest for ‘Atma Nirbhar Bharat’ and the Indian Navy’s ‘Make in India’ initiative.
The idea of designing an IAC was first born in the early 80s, replacing India’s first aircraft carrier INS Vikrant, which was acquired from the United Kingdom in 1961. Beginning in the early 80s, the Staff Requirements were formulated for a Sea Control Ship (SCS) with Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) aircraft operations. Concept designs were prepared by the Directorate of Naval Design (DND) with various design options with ski jumps and conventional catapults.
In the 90s, the design iterations continued till the design for an Air Defence Ship (ADS) capable of operating the naval version of Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) was developed, with the design to launch the aircraft from a ski jump. In the late 90s, with the Russian-developed ship-based version of MiG-29s (called MiG-29K), which is also the primary aircraft of the Indian Navy’s Russian-built aircraft carrier- INS Vikramaditya, the design for IAC was converted into a carrier capable of operating the MiG-29Ks and LCA(N), with Short Take Off and Arrested Recovery (STOBAR).
The actual work on the present INS Vikrant started in 1997, with the Naval Design Team being tasked to design the carrier. The initial sanction to go ahead with the design of the Air Defence Ship was accorded in 1999. The Cabinet sanction for the present 40,000 tonnes Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC), capable of operating 30 aircraft, with a mix of fixed-wing aircraft comprising MiG-29Ks and LCAs, as well as rotary-wing aircraft (helicopters), was accorded in 2002.
Initially, it was termed as an Air Defence Ship of about 30,000 tons in STOBAR. After several iterations and selecting the fighter aircraft to operate from her deck, the designation was changed to IAC, displacing about 40,000 tons designed to operate the MiG-29K fighter aircraft.
The initial sanction was for INR 2,300 cr, which included investment in infrastructure at Cochin Shipyard to construct what is now INS Vikrant, and for design and start-up works. The navy was tasked to take up the case for final sanctions once the design was frozen and the actual costs were known. The project was initially sanctioned for a cost of INR 19,000 cr, which was finally revised to INR 23,000 cr.
Naval designers, with their legacy knowledge of over five decades of in-house warship design, conducted key design evolutions of the IAC, such as the development of hull form, scaled model studies, detailed structural analysis using modern software, and aerodynamic and CFD analysis for safe air operations. The ship has been designed with a high degree of automation for machinery operation, ship navigation and 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 and produced in India. Indigenous marine grade steel DMR 249 was developed and used in her construction. Over 21,000 tonnes of steel have been supplied by SAIL for the IAC from its Rourkela, Bhilai and Durgapur plants. As a spinoff, all warships of the Indian Navy are now being built using this indigenous steel. This is an ode to an idea that has now turned into a revolution, propelling the navy’s indigenisation growth story.
With a storied and illustrious history, the Indian Navy@75 sails into amritkaal and gears ahead towards the Indian Navy@100!
Adm. Sunil Lanba (r), is a former Chief of the Naval Staff, Indian Navy