In its first major military decision since taking office, the new Indian government is backing the completion of India’s first indigenously-built aircraft carrier.
According to local media outlets, the Narendra Modi government agreed on Wednesday to release funds to complete the construction of the long-delayed Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC), the INS Vikrant. The reports said that the proposal was cleared by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), which is headed by Prime Minister Modi.
The proposal will allocate Rs 19,000 crore (appx. $3.1 billion) to complete the construction of the INS Vikrant, which is being built by Cochin Shipyard Limited in Kochi. Reports indicate that completing the construction of the aircraft carrier will cost about Rs 20,000 crore.
Earlier administrations have released Rs 3,500 crore (appx. $560 million) in funds to complete the first phase of the carrier project. According to the Times of India, the CSS note had been ready since sometime last year but the previous administration had not cleared it to free up the funds.
This is typical of Indian defense projects which are plagued by lengthy delays usually caused in part by excessive amounts of bureaucracy. Indeed, the IAC program itself is running four to five years behind schedule. The program, which was first approved in 2003, was expected to yield an operational aircraft carrier by this year or next. The new schedule now has the carrier beginning extensive sea trials sometime in 2016 and being inducted into the navy by the end of 2018.
Still, the TOI report notes that around 75 percent of the INS Vikrant’s basic structure has been completed already. “The underwater work is finished. The superstructure, the upper decks, the cabling, sensors, weapons etc have to be integrated now. Most of the equipment has already been ordered. It will be powered by four American LM2500 gas turbines,” a military source told the Indian newspaper.
When completed, the ship will be about 40,000 tons with a length of 260 meters and breadth of 60 meters. India’s Economic Times reports that once it enters into operational service, it “will carry among other things the MiG-29K, Light Combat Aircraft Tejas and Kamov 31 helicopters.” To date, India has ordered 45 MiG-29Ks from Russia; 16 were purchased in a 2004 contract and the remaining ones were ordered in 2010. The first 16 have already been delivered to Delhi, and the Indian Air Force created a squadron of MiG-29Ks last year.
Modi’s decision to release the remaining funding for the IAC comes less than a month after he spent hours abroad the INS Vikramaditya, the refitted Russian carrier that was delivered to India last year. India paid $2.33 billion for the 44,000 ton former Admiral Gorshkov, which Russia’s Navy used from 1987 through 2005.
India has also operated the aging British-built INS Viraat (R22) carrier, which India commissioned in 1987 (England commissioned it as the HMS Hermes (R12) in 1959 and decommissioned it in 1984). It is expected to be decommissioned in the coming years. India also has a 60,000-tonne IAC-II project that is currently in the planning stages.