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India’s New Aircraft Carrier May Face Further Delays

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India’s New Aircraft Carrier May Face Further Delays

Progress on India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier is steady, but will it be ready in time?

India’s New Aircraft Carrier May Face Further Delays
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, will be re-launched next week according to local media reports.

The vessel was officially launched in August 2013 with the completion of phase I of construction. The re-launch on May 28 at Cochin Shipyard Limited in Kochi will mark the successful completion of the most critical stage of phase II.

“All major equipment has gone into the vessel, which has now acquired the shape of an aircraft carrier, with a finished hull. Barring a bit of ongoing work on the super structure, structural work is all over and the internal compartments have all been welded in,” a shipyard official was quoted as saying.

Additionally, The Hindu notes that “outfitting is steadily progressing at the moment, but a major part of it — including piping, electrical cabling, control system wiring — will be carried out after the vessel is launched.”

India’s Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC) program encountered multiple delays over the last few years with reported budget overruns as high as $4 billion. In July 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to accelerate construction and allocated approximately $3.1 billion towards the completion of the carrier.

Five years behind schedule, the 400-ton INS Vikrant is supposed to begin sea-trials in 2017 and should be inducted into the Indian Navy by late 2018. However, The Hindu reports that that despite contractual agreements over the construction of carrier’s aviation complex have been signed with Russian state-owned Rosoboronexport corporation “delivery of major aviation equipment has not begun yet.”  This could point to a further delay.

With a length of 260 meters and breadth of 60 meters, the INS Vikrant is expected to carry 36 fixed-wing aircraft including the Russian-made MiG-29 K and the yet-to-be-inducted indigenously-produced Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), Tejas. Additionally, it will carry up to ten Kamov Ka-31 or Westland Sea King Helicopters.

The carrier will feature a bulky ski-jump assisted short-take off but arrested recovery (STOBAR) system, which, as my colleague Ankit Panda has noted, is only in use on Russian and Chinese carriers and reduces the range and the armament of aircraft launched, in comparison to jets launched with the more complex Catapult-Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) launch system used by other navies.

The carrier will be powered by four massive American LM2500 gas turbines. However, this is where additional delays could arise. “Ironically, obsolescence of equipment already delivered and stacked for sometime could pose a problem towards the end of the second phase when they are set to work,” the shipyard official told The Hindu.

Last week, the Indian government also approved “commencement of preparatory work for construction of Indian Aircraft Carrier 2,” according to local media. The proposed 65,000 ton INS Vishal will be the second carrier of the Vikrant-class

In February 2015, retired Indian rear admiral Ravi Vohra was quoted as saying that India’s ultimate goal is the eventual establishment of a five-carrier fleet, comprising a mix of large and small carriers.