COCHIN (India), Aug 12: India unveiled its first indigenously built aircraft carrier on Monday, a landmark moment in the $5 billion project that seeks to project the country’s power.
When the INS Vikrant comes into full service in 2018, India will join an elite club of nations that have designed and built their own aircraft carriers including Britain, France, Russia and the United States but not China.
“It’s a remarkable milestone,” Defence Minister A.K. Antony said as he stood on a red carpet in the shadow of the giant ship which was launched from a dry dock in the city of Cochin and later pulled out into the harbour by tugboats. “It marks just a first step in a long journey but at the same time an important one,” he added before his wife Elizabeth officially launched the 40,000-tonne vessel by placing a garland on its hull.
INS Vikrant, which will be fitted with weaponry and machinery and then tested over the next four years, is a major technological and military advancement for a country competing for influence in Asia, analysts say.
“It is going to be deployed in the Indian Ocean region where the world’s commercial and economic interests coalesce. India’s capability is very much with China in mind,” Rahul Bedi, a defence expert with IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, said.
On Saturday, India announced that its first indigenously built nuclear submarine was ready for sea trials, which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called a “giant stride” for the nation.
“All these are power projection platforms, to project India’s power as an extension of its diplomacy,” Bedi added.
The world’s biggest democracy is spending tens of billions of dollars for upgrading its mainly Soviet-era military hardware to bolster its defences.
Successes in its long-range missile and naval programmes have been tempered by expensive failures in developing its own aircraft and other land-based weaponry, leaving the country highly dependent on imports.
INS Vikrant is two years behind schedule after problems in sourcing specialised steel from Russia, delays with crucial equipment and even a road accident in which vital diesel generators were damaged.
Overall, India lags far behind China in defence capabilities, analysts say, making the success in beating its regional rival in the race to develop a domestically produced aircraft carrier significant.
China’s first carrier, the Liaoning, which was purchased from the Ukraine, went into service last September. But Beijing is reportedly planning to construct or acquire a bigger ship in the future.—AFP