India launches new aircraft carrier as China concerns grow

NEW DELHI (AP) — India commissioned its first locally-built aircraft carrier on Friday as it seeks to counter the much larger and growing fleet of regional rival China and expand its own capabilities. of indigenous shipbuilding.

INS Vikrant, whose name is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘mighty’ or ‘brave’, is India’s second operational aircraft carrier, joining the Soviet-era INS Vikramaditya which it purchased from the Russia in 2004 to defend the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal.

The new 262-meter (860-foot) aircraft carrier, designed by the Indian Navy and built at Cochin Shipyard in southern India, was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as part of the commemoration by the country of 75 years of independence from British rule.

More than just an addition to the country’s naval capabilities, Modi underscored the importance for India of now being one of the few countries with an indigenous aircraft carrier program.

“It’s a historic day and a milestone achievement,” Modi said. “This is an example of the government’s desire to make India’s defense sector self-sufficient.”

The aircraft carrier is the largest warship to be built in the country, and can carry a crew of around 1,600 and operate a fleet of 30 aircraft, including fighter jets and helicopters, the agency said. Marine.

More than 75% of components for India’s new aircraft carrier are sourced locally, with half a dozen large industrial companies and more than 100 smaller companies supplying equipment and machinery, according to the Defense Ministry.

A six-year delay has caused a six-fold price overrun to 200 billion rupees ($2.5 billion) at present, according to defense experts.

The 47,400-ton warship will be fully operational by the end of 2023 after first undergoing landing trials with the Russian-made MiG-29K fighter jet.

India plans to equip the aircraft carrier with more than twenty new fighters, the Rafale-M from French Dassault and the F/A-18 Block III Super Hornet built by Boeing being currently under study.

Until then, it will rely on the Russian plane borrowed from the only other Indian carrier, said Rahul Bedi, a defense expert.

In recent years, China has expanded its presence in the Indian Ocean, Western Pacific and beyond.

In August he sailed a navy ship to a Chinese-built port in Sri Lanka despite New Delhi’s security concerns over such a stopover off the Indian coast. Beijing called the vessel a research vessel, but it was widely believed to be a dual-purpose spy ship that India feared could be used to monitor the region.

In response to concerns over China’s growing assertiveness, the Indian Navy last year sent four warships to Southeast Asia, the South China Sea and the Indo-Pacific for exercises with members of the other “Quad” group of nations – the United States, Japan and Australia. , according to the Indian Ministry of Defence.

Modi said on Friday that security issues in the Indo-Pacific region and the Indian Ocean had been ignored for too long.

“But today, this area is a major defense priority for us. So we are working in all directions, from increasing the navy’s budget to increasing its capacity,” he said.

The vast maritime region has been strained due to China’s disputes with neighbors including Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Japan and South Korea. There are competing claims to all or part of the strategically vital waterway which contains significant undersea deposits of oil and gas.

China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy, or PLAN, has been modernizing for more than a decade to become more of a “blue water” force – one capable of operating globally rather than be limited to staying closer to the Chinese mainland, for which carriers are essential.

The PLAN currently has some 355 ships, including submarines, according to the US Department of Defense, which estimates the force will increase to 420 ships by 2025 and 460 ships by 2030.

It had two aircraft carriers and launched its third in June which would be equipped with an electromagnetic system as the United States uses in its new aircraft carriers. The Indian carrier uses the traditional “ski jump” type system to launch its planes.

India’s fleet now includes two aircraft carriers, 10 destroyers, 12 frigates and 20 corvettes, according to its navy.

India’s former aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya was built in the Soviet Union in 1987. It served in the Soviet Navy as Admiral Gorshkov and then in the Russian Navy before being decommissioned in 1996. India bought it in 2004 for $2.35. billion.

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