India's 860-foot aircraft carrier is an impressive sight: what to know

It can carry a crew of 1,600 people and operate a fleet of 30 aircraft.
Ameya Paleja
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The indigenously built INS VIkrant

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INS Vikrant, India's first indigenously built aircraft carrier, was commissioned by the Indian Prime Minister today and will join the Soviet-era aircraft carrier that entered service in 2013, Al Jazeera reported.

The People’s Liberation Army Navy, or PLAN, has been modernizing for the past decade as it looks to flex its muscles beyond its territorial waters. This has heightened tensions in the Indo-Pacific region since China has disputes with most of its neighbors, including Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Japan, and South Korea.

Last month, India objected to a Chinese navy vessel sailing to a port in Sri Lanka that China had built. Although China has maintained that the ship was a research vessel, New Delhi believes it could be used to surveil the region off the Indian coast. The commissioning comes closely on the heels of this incident.

INS Vikrant

INS Vikrant is an 860-foot (262 m) aircraft carrier designed by the Indian Navy and built by Cochin Shipyard, a government of India-owned shipbuilding and maintenance facility located on the southern coast.

Vikrant is a Sanskrit word that means "powerful" or "courageous" and can carry a crew of 1,600 people. It will operate a fleet of 30 aircraft, including helicopters and fighter jets. According to naval experts, the Russian-made MiG-29K aircraft will be primarily used on the carrier, while India is working to incorporate the Rafale-M from France and the F/A-18 Block III Super Hornet from Boeing. India's other aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya, currently operates a fleet of MiG-29K's.

While India was already on the list of the handful of nations that operate aircraft carriers, it has now joined an elite group that can indigenously manufacture one as well. According to the Indian Defence Ministry, over 75 percent of the 47,400-tonne warship's components have been indigenously produced by six major industrial firms and over 100 smaller businesses providing equipment and machinery.

The project was delayed by six years, and the cost was overrun by six times. The INS Vikrant cost 200 billion rupees ($2.5 billion), far less than what the U.S. spent for the USS Gerald Ford, comparing price alone.

What happens next?

The warship will go through landing trials with the MiG-29K aircraft and is expected to be operational by 2023. The Indian Navy now has two aircraft carriers, 10 destroyers, 12 frigates, and 20 corvette ships in its fleet.

Last year, it sent four of its ships to Southeast Asia, the South-China sea, and the Indo-Pacific regions for exercises with ships from the U.S., Japan, and Australia, a group better known as the Quad.

According to the U.S. Department of Defense, the PLAN currently has 355 ships and plans to increase its numbers to 460 by the end of this decade. The PLAN also has two aircraft carriers and launched a third one this June, with an electromagnetic system to launch aircraft, much like the ones U.S. aircraft carriers plan to have.

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