On the morning of September 2, local time, the Indian government officially held a commissioning ceremony for India’s first domestically built aircraft carrier, the INS Vikrant, in Cochin. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended the commissioning ceremony, reviewed the Indian Navy’s honor guard, and delivered a speech saying that the “Vikrant” aircraft carrier proved India’s determination to advance the “self-reliant India” policy.
With the 17-year-old medium-sized aircraft carrier joining the Indian Navy’s battle order, India has become one of the few countries in the world that has built state-of-the-art defense technology. The US Cable News Network (CNN) said that the service of the “Vikrant” made India officially join the “club of aircraft carrier great powers”.
Aircraft carrier “Middle Student”
India is the first country in Asia to be equipped with aircraft carriers after World War II. As India’s newest aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant makes India the fourth country in the world to have the capability to build its own aircraft carrier, and has high expectations from the Indian Navy. The “Vikrant” has a displacement of 40,000 tons and can carry 34 aircraft including MiG-29K carrier-based fighters, Ka-31 early warning helicopters and MH-60 multi-purpose helicopters, with a maximum speed of 28 knots and a cruising speed. 18 knots, the endurance can reach 7500 nautical miles. The fixed-wing carrier-based aircraft carried by the “Vikrant” adopts the method of ski-jump take-off to block the landing. Two take-off runways (one of which is about 180 meters long) and a slanted deck landing area are set up to land on the ship. There are three arresting cables in the area, and the ski jump deck is upturned by 14 degrees, with a total length of 262 meters, a width of 62 meters and a height of 59 meters. It is the largest and most complex warship built by South Asian countries so far.
Aircraft carriers are divided into attack aircraft carriers, anti-submarine aircraft carriers, escort aircraft carriers and multi-purpose aircraft carriers according to their tasks. According to the performance of carrier-based aircraft, aircraft carriers can be divided into fixed-wing aircraft carriers and helicopter aircraft carriers. The former can take off and land various aircraft including traditional fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, while the latter can only take off and land. Helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft that can take off and land vertically. Some navies also have a similar-looking ship, called an “amphibious assault ship,” that can also take off and land military helicopters, as well as VTOL fixed-wing aircraft. Aircraft carriers can be divided into large aircraft carriers according to tonnage, that is, full-load displacement of more than 60,000 tons; medium-sized aircraft carriers, that is, full-load displacement of 30,000 to 60,000 tons; and small aircraft carriers, that is, full-load displacement of less than 30,000 tons. Divided by power, aircraft carriers are divided into conventional powered aircraft carriers and nuclear powered aircraft carriers.
According to the above standards, the Indian aircraft carrier is a multi-purpose conventional power medium aircraft carrier carrying fixed-wing aircraft. If the American “Ford” class aircraft carrier is called “Nine-dan master”, then the Indian ship has a displacement of 40,000 tons. The aircraft carrier has the strength of the fourth and fifth stages. The level of its carrier-based aircraft can only be said to be barely sufficient. The take-off method has a large limitation on the performance of the carrier-based aircraft, the power method is not advanced, and the displacement is limited. In terms of overall performance, it belongs to the “middle student” level among the world’s aircraft carriers. After all, in front of it, in addition to the “Ford” class and “Nimitz” class of the US Navy, there are also more powerful aircraft carriers in China, Britain and France. However, compared with the aircraft carriers of Thailand, Italy and other countries, the “Vikrant” still has certain advantages in overall strength.
It is difficult to realize the dream of “three aircraft carriers”
As a maritime power that has inherited the geopolitical ideological tradition of the British Empire, the Indian Navy has always paid attention to the seizure of sea dominance. The Indian Navy’s strategy has shifted from offshore defense and regional deterrence to open-water offense, with a focus on developing strategic nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers to build a credible sea-based nuclear deterrent capability. Aircraft carriers have multiple functions and can perform military and non-military missions such as ground attack, air defense, anti-ship, anti-submarine, and disaster relief. The carrier-based aircraft on each aircraft carrier can control the sea and airspace of 800 kilometers × 1000 kilometers, and four aircraft carrier formations can control a large area of sea and airspace of about 965,000 square kilometers. In addition to occupying sea and air dominance, they can also seize electromagnetic control power and land control, its effectiveness is unmatched by any other weapon.
In view of the status and role of aircraft carriers, the Indian Navy has invested a lot of resources in the purchase and construction of aircraft carriers. Judging from its family background, before the “Vikrant” was commissioned, the “Vikramaditya” was the only aircraft carrier in India in service. This aircraft carrier was originally the Russian “Admiral Gorshkov”, the third ship of the Kyiv-class aircraft carrier developed in the Soviet era. It has a total length of 284 meters, a width of 64 meters, a draft of 10.2 meters and a maximum cruising range of more than 4,000 nautical miles, with a standard displacement of 33,400 tons. The main carrier-based aircraft are 24 MiG-29K carrier-based fighters, 6 Ka-29/31 or HAL helicopters, and do not have the ability to take off and land fixed-wing early warning aircraft. How much is one? Somewhat outdated aircraft carrier.
India had planned to have an aircraft carrier battle group consisting of at least three aircraft carriers by 2020, including the “Vikramaditya” and two other Indian-built aircraft carriers. The “Vikrant” was originally planned to be included in the fleet in 2017, and another self-built aircraft carrier will have a larger displacement (64,000 tons). Once India implements the “three aircraft carrier plan”, it can be guaranteed With at least two aircraft carriers in service, they can control two key waters in the Indian Ocean – the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea – and thus control the Indian Ocean.
However, due to the very unsatisfactory construction plan of India’s domestic aircraft carrier, this “three aircraft carrier plan” is still on paper. Analysts believe that India’s second domestically produced aircraft carrier will not be expected to enter service until around 2040, but the “Vikramaditya” will face retirement around 2030. Therefore, if it does not buy second-hand aircraft carriers from other countries, India may not be able to realize the dream of “three aircraft carriers”.
Bumpy road to construction
The entry of the aircraft carrier INS Vikrant makes India very proud. Indian media reported that in addition to the ship builder Cochin Shipyard Co., Ltd., more than 50 major industrial groups in 17 Indian states participated in the construction project, and a total of more than 500 companies provided supporting services. The 23,000 tons of various types of steel, 150 kilometers of pipes and more than 2,000 valves used in the “Vikrant” are all made locally. In addition, combat management integrated systems, kitchens, air conditioners, steering gears and toilets, etc.
However, behind these glamorous data is hard to hide embarrassment. At the end of November 2004, the Indian government announced an allocation of 30 billion rupees (about 2.6 billion yuan), and a high-profile announcement of the construction of the “Vikrant” aircraft carrier; in April 2005, the construction of the aircraft carrier was officially launched; but it was not until 5 years later. In 2009, the keel of the aircraft carrier began to be laid; two years later, in 2011, the aircraft carrier was launched for the first time. Once launched, the carrier was originally scheduled to complete internal work and outfitting by mid-2012, before returning to drydock again to install propulsion and power systems. However, due to the lack of aircraft carrier construction experience at the Cochin Shipyard, the construction of the “Vikrant” is far behind schedule.
A series of accidents also occurred during the construction of the Vikrant. In the second half of 2012, the aircraft carrier returned to dry dock again to install gear boxes, generators and other equipment. At the end of 2014, the “Vikrant” finally made new progress after a year of silence, and began to build the island facilities. In May 2015, the Vikrant was officially launched for the third time, but outfitting is still slow. India’s parliamentary defense committee pointed out that the cost of the “Vikrant” has exceeded 2.81 billion US dollars, a six-fold increase from the original budget. In July this year, the “Vikrant” completed the fourth stage of sea trials and was commissioned on September 2. Weak industrial base, backward management methods, inefficient political system and frequent corruption incidents are the main reasons why the construction process of the “Vikrant” is very unsmooth.
It is foreseeable that in the next course of use, the “Vikrant” aircraft carrier may still face many challenges. However, the entry of the “Vikrant” has brought India one step closer to the dream of the “three aircraft carrier plan”. For a long time, India has pursued a maritime security strategy that can be called a “fence” strategy. This “fence” consists of three concentric semi-circular strategic zones extending outward from the Indian subcontinent: the first is the full control zone, which is the sea within 500 nautical miles of the coast; the second is the medium control zone, which is Sea area within a range of 500 nautical miles to 1,000 nautical miles; the third layer is the soft control zone, which includes all remaining parts of the Indian Ocean. The “fence” is divided into two parts, east and west, along the Mumbai-Trincomalee-Koke Island axis.
Of the three strategic zones, India is most concerned with the zone of complete control closest to the subcontinent, especially the exclusive economic zone extending 200 nautical miles from the coast. In addition to the exclusive economic zone, the Indian navy wants to be able to secure the waters extending 500 nautical miles from the coast. In the medium control area, the main goal of the Indian Navy is to make the enemy forces invading the area see no chance of victory, and to provide protection for the passing Indian merchant ships, and aircraft carrier battle groups can play a key role in defending this area. Role. In the soft control area, the Indian Navy hopes to monitor the actions of other major navies with large reconnaissance aircraft, and this monitoring also requires the support of aircraft carriers when necessary.
However, the Indian Navy, which has two aircraft carriers, is bound to collide head-on with the “world’s ocean hegemon” the United States while traversing the Indian Ocean. To a certain extent, the entry of the “Vikrant” may deepen the contradiction between the US-India sea power and the India-Pakistan sea power conflict, and its influence will spill over from the military field to the geopolitical field.