PICTURES

India launches its first aircraft carrier, the INS Vikrant

Tugboats guide the indigenously-built aircraft carrier INS Vikrant as it leaves the Cochin Shipyard Limited's dock after its launch in Kochi on Aug 12, 2013. India launched its first indigenously-built aircraft carrier on Aug 12, 2013, a landmark mom
Tugboats guide the indigenously-built aircraft carrier INS Vikrant as it leaves the Cochin Shipyard Limited's dock after its launch in Kochi on Aug 12, 2013. India launched its first indigenously-built aircraft carrier on Aug 12, 2013, a landmark moment in the US$5 billion project that seeks to project the country's power and check the rising influence of China. -- PHOTO:  AFP
Indian naval officers stand guard during the launch of the indigenously-built aircraft carrier INS Vikrant at the Cochin Shipyard in Kochi on Aug 12, 2013. India launched its first indigenously-built aircraft carrier on Aug 12, 2013, a landmark momen
Indian naval officers stand guard during the launch of the indigenously-built aircraft carrier INS Vikrant at the Cochin Shipyard in Kochi on Aug 12, 2013. India launched its first indigenously-built aircraft carrier on Aug 12, 2013, a landmark moment in the US$5 billion project that seeks to project the country's power and check the rising influence of China. -- PHOTO:  AFP
Indian Defence minister A.K. Anthony (second right), his wife Elizabeth Antony (second left), union minister for shipping G. K. Vasan (right) and chief for Naval Staff, Admiral D.K. Joshi wave after the launch of the indigenously-built aircraft carri
Indian Defence minister A.K. Anthony (second right), his wife Elizabeth Antony (second left), union minister for shipping G. K. Vasan (right) and chief for Naval Staff, Admiral D.K. Joshi wave after the launch of the indigenously-built aircraft carrier INS Vikrant at the Cochin Shipyard in Kochi on Aug 12, 2013. When the INS Vikrant comes into full service in 2018, India will become the fifth nation to have designed and built its own aircraft carrier, pushing ahead of China to join an elite club that includes Britain, France, Russia and the United States. -- PHOTO:  AFP
The Indian tri-colour flag flutters on the indigenously-built aircraft carrier INS Vikrant during the launch at the Cochin Shipyard in Kochi on Aug 12, 2013. -- PHOTO:  AFP
The Indian tri-colour flag flutters on the indigenously-built aircraft carrier INS Vikrant during the launch at the Cochin Shipyard in Kochi on Aug 12, 2013. -- PHOTO:  AFP
Tugboats guide the indigenously-built aircraft carrier INS Vikrant as it leaves the dock of the Cochin Shipyard after the launch ceremony in Kochi on Aug 12, 2013.  -- PHOTO:  AFP
Tugboats guide the indigenously-built aircraft carrier INS Vikrant as it leaves the dock of the Cochin Shipyard after the launch ceremony in Kochi on Aug 12, 2013.  -- PHOTO:  AFP
Tugboats guide the indigenously-built aircraft carrier INS Vikrant as it leaves the dock of the Cochin Shipyard after the launch ceremony in Kochi on Aug 12, 2013.  -- PHOTO:  AFP
Tugboats guide the indigenously-built aircraft carrier INS Vikrant as it leaves the dock of the Cochin Shipyard after the launch ceremony in Kochi on Aug 12, 2013.  -- PHOTO:  AFP
Indian locals watch as tugboats guide the indigenously-built aircraft carrier INS Vikrant as it leaves the dock of the Cochin Shipyard after the launch ceremony in Kochi on Aug 12, 2013.  -- PHOTO:  AFP
Indian locals watch as tugboats guide the indigenously-built aircraft carrier INS Vikrant as it leaves the dock of the Cochin Shipyard after the launch ceremony in Kochi on Aug 12, 2013.  -- PHOTO:  AFP
The indigenously-built aircraft carrier INS Vikrant at the Cochin Shipyard during the launch ceremony in Kochi on Aug 12, 2013. -- PHOTO:  AFP
The indigenously-built aircraft carrier INS Vikrant at the Cochin Shipyard during the launch ceremony in Kochi on Aug 12, 2013. -- PHOTO:  AFP
Indian Defence minister A.K. Anthony (second right), his wife Elizabeth Antony (second left), union minister for shipping G. K. Vasan (right) and chief for Naval Staff, Admiral D.K. Joshi stand during the national anthem at the launch of the indigeno
Indian Defence minister A.K. Anthony (second right), his wife Elizabeth Antony (second left), union minister for shipping G. K. Vasan (right) and chief for Naval Staff, Admiral D.K. Joshi stand during the national anthem at the launch of the indigenously-built aircraft carrier INS Vikrant at the Cochin Shipyard in Kochi on Aug 12, 2013. -- PHOTO:  AFP
Indian naval officers stand during the launch of the indigenously-built aircraft carrier INS Vikrant at the Cochin Shipyard in Kochi on Aug 12, 2013.  -- PHOTO:  AFP
Indian naval officers stand during the launch of the indigenously-built aircraft carrier INS Vikrant at the Cochin Shipyard in Kochi on Aug 12, 2013.  -- PHOTO:  AFP
Tugboats guide the indigenously-built aircraft carrier INS Vikrant as it leaves the Cochin Shipyard after the launch ceremony in Kochi on Aug 12, 2013. -- PHOTO:  AFP
Tugboats guide the indigenously-built aircraft carrier INS Vikrant as it leaves the Cochin Shipyard after the launch ceremony in Kochi on Aug 12, 2013. -- PHOTO:  AFP
The INS Vikrant docked after its launch at a shipyard in Kochi. Nearly 90 per cent of the carrier’s structure was designed and built in India. The $3.8 billion vessel will be fitted out for commissioning by 2018. -- PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS
The INS Vikrant docked after its launch at a shipyard in Kochi. Nearly 90 per cent of the carrier’s structure was designed and built in India. The $3.8 billion vessel will be fitted out for commissioning by 2018. -- PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

First locally built carrier will help it project power farther into Asia-Pacific

India launched its first indigenous aircraft carrier yesterday, beating China to join an elite group of military powers that can design and build such massive warships.

Only the United States, Russia, Britain and France have the capability to build carriers of 40,000 tonnes and above. China operates a retrofitted carrier of Russian origin, and is still working on its first home-built carriers.

"We must continue the process of developing indigenous capability to secure our maritime interests," Defence Minister A.K. Antony said after his wife, Elizabeth, launched the 37,500 tonne INS Vikrant down the slipway into the water at a shipyard in Kochi, southern India. Additional fittings will take its tonnage to 40,000.

The US$3 billion (S$3.8 billion) vessel will be docked and fitted out for commissioning by 2018. Work on the carrier started in 2006, and the keel was laid three years later.

In recent years, India has stepped up its military modernisation programme, spending billions of dollars on upgrading its Soviet-era weapons and systems. While buying mostly from American, Israeli and French suppliers, New Delhi is also pushing its own military industry.

The Vikrant's launch comes two days after

the Indian navy activated the reactor on board the INS Arihant nuclear submarine, the first to be designed and built in India, and ready for commissioning next year.

Yesterday, it also successfully test-fired its nuclear-capable surface-to-surface Prithvi-II missile from a military base in eastern India.

India has stepped up its naval focus as China boosts its presence in the Indian Ocean, which New Delhi considers within its sphere of influence. The launch of the Vikrant will enhance its navy's strike capabilities far from its shores.

With plans to induct more carriers into its fleet, India could be operating two full-strength combat battle groups before the end of the decade, enabling it to project its naval strength farther afield into the Asia-Pacific.

Combat battle groups are a cohesive strike force comprising an aircraft carrier, destroyers, frigates, submarines, tankers, fighters and other aircraft capable of travelling 600 nautical miles a day.

"There is a need for a strong navy to defend our mainland," Mr Antony said at the Vikrant's launch. "The navy must continue to maintain high preparedness in waters to ward off any possible threat from water."

Describing the Vikrant as the "crowning glory" of the Indian navy's indigenous programme, Indian naval officials said the conventionally powered carrier can reach a top speed of 52kmh and carry 1,400 crew.

It is 260m long, 60m wide and as high as a 14-storey building. Its flight deck is the size of two football fields.

Nearly 90 per cent of the carrier's structure has been designed and built in India. About 50 per cent of the propulsion system is of Indian origin, with the rest from the US and Italy. But only around 30 per cent of the fighting capability installed on the warship is indigenously built.

It can carry 30 aircraft, and its mainstay fighter jets will be the Russian-made MiG-29K. The carrier will be armed with a long-range surface-to-air missile system with multifunction radars and close-in weapons systems, including four 76mm rapid-fire guns.

mkritti@sph.com.sg