INS Vikrant is the largest warship ever built in India and the first indigenously designed and developed Aircraft Carrier. Its name is derived from the Sanskrit word vikrānta meaning “stepping beyond”, “courageous” or “bold”.
Named after India’s first Aircraft Carrier also called INS Vikrant –its motto is — “Jayema Saṁ Yudhi Spr̥dhaḥ” [I’ll defeat those who fight against me].
Built at an overall cost of close to Rs 20,000 Crore, the 262-meter-long carrier has a full displacement of 45,000 tonnes – much larger and more advanced than her predecessor. The ship is powered by four Gas Turbines totaling 88 MW power and has a maximum speed of 28 Knots/hour. It has 14 decks in all, including five in the superstructure. The ship would also have two heavy-duty lifts to carry aircraft up to the runway and back to the hanger. Vikrant can travel self-contained for 13890 km non-stop. All these features will go on to make Vikrant a potent weapon platform and floating Airfield to check any intrusion in the Indian Ocean.
The ship designed for a crew of around 1700 people, has over 2,300 compartments, including gender-sensitive accommodation for women officers and sailors. It has eight kilometers long corridors, flight decks as big as two football grounds, a dedicated hospital complex, and eight power generators that can lighten up a city of 2 million people.
Designed to accommodate an assortment of fixed-wing and rotary aircraft, Vikrant has been built with a high degree of automation for machinery operation, ship navigation, and survivability. It can leverage almost 30 aircraft comprising MIG-29K fighter jets, Kamov-31, MH-60R multi-role helicopters, in addition to indigenously manufactured Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH) and Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) using a novel aircraft-operation mode known as STOBAR (Short Take- Off but Arrested Landing). The IAC is also equipped with a ski- jump for launching aircraft, and ‘arrester wires’ for their recovery on-board. In the years to come MIG 29 will be replaced with F/A 18 Super Hornet, Rafale, and Tejas for which trials are in progress.
The new aircraft carrier designed by the Directorate of Naval Design and built by Cochin Shipyard with the help of a large number of private and public firms has catapulted India into the elite club of nations that can design, build and operate their own aircraft carriers.
The indigenously developed aircraft carrier is proof of the Country’s technical acumen and engineering skills. It’s a living example of India’s self-sufficiency (Atma Nirbharta) and the success of the ‘Make in India’ program. The country’s steelmaking giant, Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) supplied almost 30000 tonnes of DMR grade specialty steel for building the Indian Navy’s first swadeshi Aircraft Carrier. The entire quantity of DMR grade specialty steel –an import substitute, was supplied by SAIL’s steel plants at Bhilai, Bokaro, and Rourkela. This alone led to an estimated saving of Rs. 2000 Crores. SAIL is also understood to have supplied 4300 tonnes of special steel for India’s indigenous navy warships INS ‘Udaygiri’ and INS ‘Surat’.
India today is the sixth country in the world to design and develop its own aircraft carrier. At present eleven other nations are known to be operating 46 aircraft/helicopter carriers worldwide. Many of them have only one carrier in service while others are under construction.
Aircraft carriers are symbols of power and prestige for the navies around the world and act as floating airbases for carrying, arming, deploying, and recovering aircraft as well as command and control of naval fleets in times of war and peace.
The United States has 11 aircraft carriers and 9 “helo” carriers (almost as many as all other countries put together) followed by Japan and France with four each. China has three aircraft/ helo carriers, while the United Kingdom, Italy, Australia, Egypt, and South Korea have two carriers. Among the rest, India, Russia, Spain, Brazil, and Thailand have only one carrier in service.
Ironically roughly half of what we call aircraft carriers today are technically helicopter carriers, also called amphibious assault ships, landing platform helicopters (LPH), landing helicopter assault (LHA), or landing helicopter dock (LHD) to differentiate them from their larger brethren. Some of these small carriers Spain’s Juan Carlos I multi-purpose carrier named after the former King of Spain can either carry a full fleet of 30 helicopters, or 10-12 helicopters and 10-12 light aircraft.
An aircraft carrier is a warship with a full-length flight deck, hangar, and facilities for arming, deploying, and recovering aircraft. The vessel’s primary purpose is to carry, arm, deploy, and recover aircraft. It is one of the most valuable sea-based assets, and an incomparable military instrument to swiftly project tactical Air Power over long distances on high Seas. An aircraft carrier supported by destroyers, frigates, corvettes, minesweepers, and submarines is invariably the flagship or centerpiece of a naval fleet in war and peace. For instance, USS Gerald R. Ford – a US Navy aircraft carrier named after Gerald Ford the 38th President of the United States, can deploy more than 75 aircraft for surveillance, support, and combat – anywhere in the world. It is the world’s largest aircraft carrier, and the largest warship ever constructed in terms of displacement.
One of the advantages of an aircraft carrier is that while sailing in international waters, it eliminates the need to seek permission from nearby countries to take off, land, refuel, or operate from their air bases. This also reduces the travel time and transit distances of aircraft in the combat zone. Modern nuclear-powered carriers can make up to 400,000 gallons of fresh water a day and go on sailing in the sea for decades without refueling.
Indian Navy’s role is to operate above, on, and under the surface of the oceans, and keep an eye on a 7516 km long maritime boundary, offshore Islands, and 2.4 million square km of Economic Exclusive Zone. This is why India needs to maintain at least three aircraft carrier-based task forces in the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea, and the Indian Ocean. They may seem to be white elephants in terms of the cost of building/acquisition and maintenance, but essential to secure our maritime frontiers. You can’t build carriers overnight, it takes time.
INS Vikrant India’s first Aircraft carrier -was a former majestic class aircraft carrier called HMS Hercules. It was built for the Royal Navy during World War II but never commissioned in British Navy. India procured the incomplete carrier from the British Navy in 1957 and commissioned it in the Indian Navy (pennant number R11) in 1961 under the command of Captain Pritam Singh Mahindroo as its first commanding officer. The 210 meters long, 40 meters wide, and almost 10-meter-high carrier had a displacement weight of 19,500 tons and could travel at the speed of 25 knots. It had a catapult-assisted take-off system and could carry 23 Aircraft/ Helicopters. Lt Cdr R. H. Tahiliani who eventually went on to be the 12th Chief of the Naval Staff carried out the first deck landing and also served as the commanding officer of INS Vikrant.
In December 1961, Vikrant along with two destroyers, INS Rajput and INS Kirpan was deployed off the coast of Goa for Operation Vijay (code name for the annexation of Goa). Vikrant however did not see action and patrolled along the coast to deter foreign interference. Once again during the Indo-Pak War in 1965, Vikrant did not see any action and remained in a dry dock for refitting.
Commenting on Vikrant’s role in the war, Fleet Operations Officer Captain Hiranandani did not mince words and bluntly told Admiral Nanda the Chief of the Naval Staff, “…during the 1965 war Vikrant was sitting in Bombay Harbour and did not go out to sea. If the same thing happened in 1971, Vikrant would be called a white elephant and naval aviation would be written off. Vikrant had to be seen being operational even if we didn’t fly any aircraft.”
During the 1971 war, INS Vikrant supported by INS Brahmaputra and INS Beas (Leopard-class frigates), INS Kamorta and INS Kavaratti (Petya III-class corvettes), and INS Khanderi (submarine) cordoned off East Pakistan from the Bay of Bengal and provided the platform to launch Hawker Sea Hawks, and Alize anti-submarine aircraft to raid Chittagong harbor. The US seventh fleet led by USS Enterprise tried to enter the Indian Ocean and threaten India but Vikrant Carrier group supported by Russian Submarines held a fort. Finally, after 40 years of service, INS Vikrant was decommissioned on 31 Jan 1997 and harbored in Mumbai as a museum ship before being auctioned as scrap in 2014.
This is what the last signal by her Commanding Officer read: