On Saturday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched India’s largest warship to date, the INS Vikramaditya, in Goa. Modi’s trip to Goa represents his first major outing on defense matters. Modi has called for India to actively improve its defense procurement system and has condemned the long string of disasters that gripped the Indian navy last year. Modi described the addition of the INS Vikramaditya to the Indian navy as a “historic” step in India’s defense modernization. Modi additionally toured the aircraft carrier in what marked his first visit to any Indian defense facility as prime minister.
“It is an important day for our nation. It is a golden day in Indian Navy’s history. For me, it is a matter of pride and happiness that INS Vikramaditya is joining the Navy. It is a historic step,” he said according to the Indian Express. Modi reiterated his emphasis on India developing a great indigenous defense manufacturing capability — something he stressed repeatedly during his campaign for prime minister. “We need to give immense importance to latest technology. This will help the nation. Why should we import defence equipment? We must be self sufficient. Why can’t we send our defence equipment to other nations,” he noted.
Despite Modi’s focus on self-sufficiency, the Vikramaditya represents one of the more significant foreign acquisitions in India’s military history. The Vikramaditya is a Kiev-class aircraft carrier that was originally built and operated by the Soviet Union. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Russian navy deemed operating the ship too expensive and decommissioned it in the 1990s. India purchased the carrier in 2004 for $2.35 billion and refitted the ship. The carrier completed sea trials successfully in mid-2013 and entered serve that same year. This weekend’s event marked the formal induction of the vessel into the Indian navy.
Modi used the occasion of the Vikramaditya‘s launch to address other defense issues including setting up a War Memorial for Indian soldiers and speaking in support of a “One Rank, One Pension” system for Indian defense personnel. Setting himself apart from his predecessor, Modi entered the cockpit of a MiG-29K fighter on board the Vikramaditya.
The Vikramaditya, along with the INS Arihant — India’s first nuclear powered submarine — represents a major increase in the capacity of the Indian Navy to project power in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). As other authors have noted on The Diplomat, the Vikramaditya could enable India to play a significantly more complex and dynamic role as a maritime security player in the region.