INS Vikrant (R11) was the first aircraft carrier to ever grace the arsenal of the Indian Navy. Initially starting life as the HMS Hercules of the British Royal Navy, the ship was re-christened as ‘Vikrant’ after purchase by the Indian Navy. The construction aircraft carrier began when World War II was in full swing, but would not be completed even after the end of the conflict. The incomplete ship was sold to the Indian Navy in 1957, which would finish its construction by the year 1961.
This R11 is not to be confused with the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier – 1 (IAC-1) which began its construction in 2013 and went into sea trials by the end of 2021, entering into service with the Indian navy by 2022.
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What is an Aircraft Carrier?
Before we go into detail about INS Vikrant we must understand the type of navy ship it is. INS Vikrant belongs to the Aircraft carrier variant. An aircraft carrier is a warship that serves as a seagoing airbase, equipped with a full-length flight deck and facilities for carrying, arming, deploying, and recovering aircraft. Typically, it is the capital ship of a fleet, as it allows a naval force to project air power worldwide without depending on local bases for staging aircraft operations. Carriers have evolved since their inception in the early twentieth century from wooden vessels used to deploy balloons to nuclear-powered warships that carry numerous fighters, strike aircraft, helicopters, and other types of aircraft.
As of June 2022, there are 47 active aircraft carriers in the world operated by fourteen navies. The United States Navy has 11 large nuclear-powered fleet carriers—carrying around 80 fighters each—the largest carriers in the world; the total combined deck space is over twice that of all other nations combined. As well as the aircraft carrier fleet, the US Navy has nine amphibious assault ships used primarily for helicopters, although these also each carry up to 20 vertical or short take-off and landing (V/STOL) fighter jets and are similar in size to medium-sized fleet carriers. The United Kingdom and China each operate two aircraft carriers. France, India, and Russia each operate a single aircraft carrier with a capacity of 30 to 60 fighter jets.
What is INS Vikrant’s ship design?
INS Vikrant measured a length of 700ft, with a beam of 128 ft wide, considerably short than her sister ship, the INS Viraat (commissioned on May 12, 1987), at 748 ft in length and 160 ft in width. The INS Vikrant was a bridge between full-sized fleet carriers and smaller, more economical escort carriers. In other words, INS Vikrant can be categorised as a “light fleet carrier”. Formally, INS Vikrant falls under the Majestic-class of aircraft carriers.
The indicated horsepower of the ship totalled up to 40,000 (30,000 kW). It gave a speed of 25 knots which is about 46 km/hr. INS Vikrant could house about 1100 officers, men and aircrew.
What is the operational history of INS Vikrant?
After its commissioning in 1961, the INS Vikrant went on its maiden voyage to Tamil Nadu for initial refitting and re-armament. When the war of 1965 (Began on August 5, 1965,) broke out between India and Pakistan, the carrier was being refitted in Mumbai. It would not leave its moorings until the end of the conflict. Its warplanes, meanwhile, had to operate from air bases located on dry land during the conflict.
The war ended with a United Nations-mediated ceasefire with no clear winner, but with both sides claiming victory on the basis of the percentage of territories held at the end of the war.
It would be in the 1971 Indo – Pak war when Vikrant would see its first combat operations. This time INS Vikrant would launch airstrikes and Combat Air Operations led primarily by Hawker Sea Hawk fighter – bombers. The war of 1971 would end in a decisive victory for the Indian Armed forces, resulting in the creation of the infant nation of Bangladesh. Vikrant would play a leading role by using its aircraft squadron in suppressing Pakistani Army ground movements and blockading East Pakistan from vital supplies through air and sea.
The warship was again refitted between the years 1991 – 1994, which did allow some degree of stability in her operations. But it was evident that her best days were behind her, as even the mightiest of ships have a shelf life. The decision was taken to finally decommission her. She was formally decommissioned in the year 1997. INS Vikrant was laid up in Mumbai, where she became a museum ship from 2001 until 2012 before public safety issue and lack of funding from both the Indian Navy and the State Government of Maharashtra proved to be a death-knell for the ship. INS Vikrant was auctioned off in 2013 and ultimately scrapped in November 2014.
INS Vikrant – Indigenous Aircraft Carrier 1 (IAC-1)
INS Vikrant, also known as Indigenous Aircraft Carrier 1 (IAC-1), is an aircraft carrier constructed by Cochin Shipyard in Kochi, Kerala for the Indian Navy. It is the first aircraft carrier to be built in India.
Work on the ship’s design began in 1999, and the keel was laid in February 2009. The carrier was floated out of its dry dock on 29 December 2011 and was launched on 12 August 2013. The basin trials were completed in December 2020, and the ship started sea trials by the end of 2021 and entered into service in 2022. The project cost has escalated, by 2014, to ₹19,341 crore. With an additional ₹3,000 crore authorised for phase III, in 2019.
It is 262 metres (860 ft) long and 62 metres (203 ft) wide, and displaces about 40,000 metric tons (39,000 long tons). It features a STOBAR configuration with a ski-jump.
Vikrant is powered by four General Electric LM2500+ gas turbines on two shafts, generating over 80 megawatts (110,000 hp) of power. The gearboxes for the carriers were designed and supplied by Elecon Engineering.
In May 2022, the Indian Navy shortlisted the F-18 Hornet to be used as a primary aircraft for the INS Vikrant. Competing for the same spot is also the Dassault Rafale. Both aircrafts are being tested at the moment extensively before a decision can be undertaken. The carrier will need about 30 planes and if they are not ready on time, an interim alternative will be looked at. But no decision has been taken as yet. There are MiG29Ks on the Gorshkov and the Indian Air Force has the Rafale.
The INS Vikrant was officially commissioned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 2nd, 2022. In his speech, he asserted that the completion of the INS Vikrant is a sign that “India is on the path to becoming a self-reliant nation”.
Indian Navy Ships – Classification
- Aircraft carriers
- Offshore Patrol Vessels
- Landing and Transport Ships
- Patrol Vessels
- Torpedo Recovery Vessels
- Conventionally-powered submarines (SSK)
- Nuclear-powered submarines (SSN and SSBN)
- Replenishment Ships
- Research and Survey Vessels
- Support Ships
- Training Vessels
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