With the commission of INS Vikrant, India now has two aircraft carriers which will play vital role in projecting India’s marine power and maintaining the security architecture in the region. Addressing the gathering, the Prime Minister said, “here on the coast of Kerala, every Indian is witnessing the sunrise of a new future.”
“Vikrant is distinguished, Vikrant is special. Vikrant is not just a warship and stands testimony to Indian skills and talent,” PM Modi said while commissioning it at the Cochin Shipyard. “No matter how difficult the goal is, no matter how big the challenges are, when Bharat decides, no goal is impossible to achieve,” he added.
The Vikrant is among the world’s biggest naval vessels at a length of 262 metres (860 feet). Speaking on the occasion, Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral R Hari Kumar voiced the Navy’s resolve for India@100 to become completely self-reliant until 2047, comprising of ‘Made in India’ ships, submarines, aircraft, unmanned vessels and systems and remain a ‘Combat Ready, Credible, Cohesive and Future-Proof Force’.
The commissioning of the INS Vikrant is indeed the moment of such historical significance which also calls for the greater scale of the modernization for the Indian Navy. Here budget matters.
The success of INS Vikrant and Rationalizing of Navy Budget
What needs to be highlighted is the recognition that Indian Navy has achieved such a feat despite the lowest share in the defence budget. PM Modi in his speech on the day of the commission of INS Vikrant, succinctly put it across. He called for greater budget for the Indian Navy and clearly outlined the need to increase the navy budget, what is in real terms must be translated into the sizeable proportions for its varied modernisation drive.
In FY2023, the budget for the Indian Navy has been increased upto Rs 47,590.99 crore as a capital outlay in comparison to Rs 33,253.55 crore in previous year’s budget. This is indeed a step in the direction of rationalising of 43.11 percent against the allotted capital outlay for the Indian Navy in FY2022. But that is half the story as Indian Navy is already pressed for the critical modernisation under the crumbling budget. As the Former the Chief of the Indian Navy, Admiral Karambir Singh, raised the red flag on the dwindling Navy budget. The budget, which was increased by 18 percent in 2012, has been raised by a paltry 13 percent in FY2020. Certainly, the numbers depict the already lower base of overall allocation of the naval budget.
Built at an estimated cost of Rs 20,000 crore, Vikrant has state-of-the-art features and can operate air wing consisting of 30 aircrafts, including MiG-29K fighter jets besides the domestically manufactured Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH).
The saga of aircraft carrier is similar to building a new city from scratch but far more complex. The success of INS Vikrant lies in the developing the crucial design and super structures indigenously and it does raise the capability at par with the most advanced aircraft carriers in the world.
Take a case of the HMS Prince of Wales which was developed at a cost of £3 billion. Despite the technological prowess of UK and the much higher cost of the built, she suffered a jolt, and was ground to halt in less than hours after setting off to undertake training exercises with the US Navy and Marine Corps and the Royal Canadian Navy.
The critics do point out the cost overrun in the making of Vikrant but that is simply the case of aircraft carriers built or under planned anywhere in the world. The reason is entirely different from land or air-based asset. This adds to the sheer challenge and complexity in building an aircraft carrier.
As it is also the case for the HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales was slated to be £3.9 billion, but as of the 2019 financial year, the programme cost had been scaled up by 95% to £7.6 billion, according to the UK’s Ministry of Defence.
The reason for such cost overrun cannot be fixed in its entirety as Professor Trevor Taylor, professorial research fellow in defence management at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) for Defence and Security Studies explains: “A constant challenge for complex warship construction is that, unlike army vehicles and combat aircraft, ship designers cannot build a prototype for testing and modification. They have to rely on their knowledge, past experience and computer modelling.”
The scale of the economy matters hugely in building such warship as it entails an entire spectrum of industrial capacity and capabilities. It is massive in case of INS Vikrant with over 76% of the components and machinery aboard IAC-1, is domestically produced. This consists of 23,000 tonnes of military grade steel, 2,500 km of electric lines, 150 km of pipes, 2,000 valves, rigid hull boats, galley equipment, air conditioning, and refrigeration units, and steering gear, among many other finished goods. In terms of employment opportunities, over 50 Indian firms were actively involved in the project and more than 2,000 personnel were employed directly on-board IAC-1, while 40,000 more people were employed indirectly.
It might take another few months for INS Vikrant to be combat ready. By definition, the Carrier must have the galaxy of combat jets which could carry out sorties and the warship must be equipped with surface to air missiles. The navy’s Vice Chief of Staff Vice Admiral SN Ghormade clarified recently that the navy will begin MiG-29K fighter landing trials on Vikrant in November and this would be completed by mid-2023. Also, the deck integration trials of fixed wing aircraft and exploitation of its Aviation Facility Complex (AFC), which is the core of combat capability would commence post launch of INS Vikrant. While it was supplied by Russia’s Nevskoe Design Bureau (NDB), the upgrade is assimilated with state-of-the-art system integration as compared to INS Vikramaditya (ex-Admiral Gorshkov), the navy’s other 44,750-tonne refurbished Kiev-class carrier.
So, the immediate gaps would be to choose right aircraft which could justify the combat capability of such a giant warship. Beyond the MiG- 29K, the Indian Navy has already initiated the process to acquire either the Rafale (M) or the F-18 ‘Super Hornet’ as an ‘interim measure’, till the indigenous twin-engine deck-based fighter (TEDBF), the naval version of the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft gets into the shape.
The budgetary issue again comes up for TEDBF program as government intends to focus on the interim measures. The stopgap arrangement must not be in the way for that the government must refocus on the development cost with speed and scale.
Meanwhile, INS Vikrant will have greater air power in its rotary wing for Kamov-31, MH-60R multi-role helicopters, in addition to indigenously manufactured Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH). Using a novel aircraft-operation mode known as Short Take Off But Arrested Recovery (STOBAR), INS Vikrant is equipped with a ski-jump for launching aircraft, and a set of ‘arrester wires’ for their recovery onboard.
Specification: Length: 262.5 m · Width: 62.5 m · Displacement: 42,800 tons · Speed: 28 knots · Power: 24 MW Equipment: * RAN-40L 3D Air surveillance Radar *MF-STAR (Naval Radar system) *TACAN (tactical air navigation system) *Rezistor-E Aviation Complex *Shakti EW suite (an electronic layer of defence against anti-ship missiles) *Diver Detection System *ELK-7036 VUHF COMINT Facts: *Over 2,500 km of cabling *Cruising range of 7,500 nautical mile. It produces electricity that is sufficient to power 5000 households. The INS Vikrant carries General Electric LM-2500 gas turbines that collectively generate 80 MW of power (120,000 hp), which would be adequate to push the carrier up to speeds of about 28 kt or 52 km/hour.