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12 Aug, 2013 10:19

India launches first home-built aircraft carrier

India launches first home-built aircraft carrier

India has launched its first domestically built aircraft carrier on Monday, joining the world’s military elite. It comes two days after the activation of India’s first nuclear submarine, a move hailed as a "giant stride in technological capabilities.”

The INS Vikrant will be launched two years behind schedule at a reported cost of around $7.7 billion. The completion of the first stage of the 37,500-ton vessel’s construction marks India’s entry into the elite group of military superpowers capable of designing and building an aircraft carrier. The other nations are Britain, France, the US and Russia.

The delays were reportedly caused by problems sourcing specialized steel from Russia.

"It's a remarkable milestone," Defence Minister A.K. Antony said as he stood in front of the giant grey hull of the ship at a ceremony in the southern city of Kochi. "It marks just a first step in a long journey but at the same time an important one."

Following its first voyage the Vikrant will re-dock so that construction can be completed on the ship’s control systems and living quarters. Once building is finished the vessel will undergo rigorous trials in 2016 and is expected to enter active service in 2018.

The keel of the home-built Indian ship is almost completely constructed from high-quality, indigenously-produced steel.

The state of the art Vikrant has the capacity to hold 36 fighter planes, with the time interval between take-offs from the vessel as low as three minutes. This period can be reduced to less than two minutes, say Indian naval officials.

The indigenously-built aircraft carrier INS Vikrant at the Cochin Shipyard during the launch ceremony in Kochi on August 12, 2013 (AFP Photo / Manjunath Kiran)

India has recently invested billions of dollars in upgrading its military and according to KPMG estimates, the country will shell out a further $112 billion on defense acquisitions between 2010 and 2016. On Sunday the government announced the activation of the first nuclear-class submarine to be designed and built in India. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called it a "giant stride" for the nation.

The addition of the vessel to India’s naval fleet will add a new facet to the country’s military capabilities as previously it was only able to launch missiles from land and from the air.

The INS Arihant (Destroyer of Enemies) is part of an Indian initiative to construct 5 vessels capable of launching nuclear-tipped missiles and torpedoes.

The Indian government aims to modernize its soviet-era military hardware. At present India has one aging British aircraft carrier that was handed over by the UK in 1987.

The new additions to India’s arsenal will enforce its military presence in the region as China’s influence continues to grow. Analysts say that overall India is lagging behind China in terms of its military capabilities. 

C. Uday Bhaskar, a retired naval officer and former director of the National Maritime Foundation in New Delhi, said the ship would "enhance India's credibility" but it "would not alter the balance of power with China".

Indian locals watch as tugboats guide the indigenously-built aircraft carrier INS Vikrant as it leaves the dock of the Cochin Shipyard after the launch ceremony in Kochi on August 12, 2013 (AFP Photo / Manjunath Kiran)