India launches new aircraft carrier as China concerns grow

India has launched its first home-built aircraft carrier as it seeks to counter China’s much larger and growing fleet, as well as expanding its own indigenous shipbuilding capabilities.

The INS Vikrant, whose name is a Sanskrit word for “powerful” or “courageous”, is India’s second operational aircraft carrier, joining the Soviet-era INS Vikramaditya that it purchased from Russia in 2004 to defend the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal.

The new 860ft carrier, designed by the Indian navy and built at the Cochin shipyard in southern India, was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as part of the country’s commemoration of 75 years of independence from British rule.

More than just adding to the country’s naval capabilities, Mr Modi stressed the importance of India now being only one of a handful of nations with an indigenous carrier programme.

“It’s a historic day and landmark achievement,” Mr Modi said. “It’s an example of the government’s thrust to make India’s defence sector self-reliant.”

The carrier is the largest warship to be built in the country, and can carry a crew of around 1,600 and operate a fleet of 30 aircraft, including fighter jets and helicopters, the navy said.

More than 75% of India’s new aircraft carrier’s components are indigenously procured, with half a dozen major industrial firms and over 100 smaller businesses providing equipment and machinery, according to the defence ministry.

A delay of six years caused a six-fold price overrun to 200 billion rupees (£2.1 billion) at present, according to defence experts.

The 47,400-tonne warship will be fully operational by the end of 2023 after first undergoing landing trials with India’s Russian-made MiG-29K fighter aircraft.

India plans to equip the carrier with more than two dozen new fighters, with the Rafale-M from France’s Dassault and the F/A-18 Block III Super Hornet built by Boeing currently being considered.

Until then it will rely on the Russian aircraft borrowed from India’s only other carrier, said Rahul Bedi, a defence expert.

In recent years, China has expanded its presence into the Indian Ocean, the Western Pacific and beyond.

In August, Beijing sailed a navy vessel to a Chinese-built port in Sri Lanka despite security concerns from New Delhi about such a port call right off India’s own coast. Beijing called the ship a research vessel, but it was widely believed to be a dual-use spy vessel that India feared could be used to carry out surveillance in the region.

In response to concerns over China’s growing assertiveness, the Indian navy last year sent four warships to south-east Asia, the South China Sea and Indo-Pacific for exercises with members of the other “Quad” group of nations – the United States, Japan and Australia.

Mr Modi said security concerns in the Indo-Pacific region and the Indian Ocean have been ignored for too long.

“But, today this area is a big defence priority of the country for us. So, we are working in every direction, from increasing the budget for the navy to increasing its capacity,” he added.

The vast maritime region has been tense because of China’s disputes with its neighbours, including Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Japan and South Korea.

There are competing claims for all or part of the strategically vital waterway that holds significant undersea oil and gas deposits.


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