The Indian Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, the Vikrant, was commissioned on 2 September 2022. Displacing roughly 45,000 tons fully loaded, the Vikrant is the nation’s first domestically produced aircraft carrier and the largest warship ever constructed in India.
Initially known as the Air Defense Ship and later the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC) program, the Vikrant was built by Cochin Shipyard Limited at Kochi. Laid down on 28 February 2009 and launched on 12 August 2013, the Vikrant was designed domestically with close cooperation between the Indian Navy and Cochin Shipyard. The carrier’s commissioning marks an important milestone for India’s domestic shipbuilding and defense sector, which places an emphasis on increasing self-reliance.
The acquisition effort was not without its setbacks, and the ship was commissioned more than six years behind schedule and significantly over budget. Sea trials began last year and continued in four phases through July 2022. Fixed-wing aircraft trials are scheduled for late 2022 and will continue through 2023. The Vikrant is expected to be fully operational by the end of next year.
The new aircraft carrier is powered by four LM2500 marine gas turbines in a combined-gas-and-gas propulsion configuration, with two shafts providing a top speed of 28 knots and a range of 7,500 nautical miles (nm) cruising at 18 knots. The warship carries a crew of 1,700 personnel and measures 860-feet long, with a 203-foot beam and a 28-foot draft. For self-defense, she will be fitted with Israeli-made Barak-8 medium-range surface-to-air missiles in a vertical launching system and four AK-630 30-mm Gatling guns for close-in defense.
The Vikrant is not fitted with a catapult, like U.S. aircraft carriers, but instead features a ski jump and arresting gear to facilitate short take-off but arrested landing of fixed-wing jets. The carrier can accommodate up to 30 fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft, including a mix of Russian-made MiG-29K fighters and Ka-31 airborne early-warning helicopters, Indian-manufactured Dhruv utility helicopters, and U.S.-produced MH-60R maritime helicopters, which began entering India’s fleet this past summer. Competition to replace the aging and often unreliable MiG-29K carrier-based fighter is currently underway, with selection narrowed to either the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet from the United States or the Dassault Rafale M from France. A winner is expected to be announced in the near future.
On commissioning, the Vikrant became India’s second active aircraft carrier. She joins the Vikramaditya, an ex-Russian modified Kiev-class unit that was refurbished in Russia and entered service in 2014. A larger and even more advanced indigenous Indian aircraft carrier design (IAC-2), to be named the Vishal, is currently in an early stage of development.