India’s project to build a seaborne aircraft carrier of its own has been delayed by two years, raising questions on the Indian Navy’s ambition to emerge as a dominant player in the Indian Ocean region. China is also keen to establish itself in this area.
About two weeks ago, the US had announced its new military policy to station more naval assets, including six aircraft carriers, in the Asia-Pacific region.
The Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC), being built at Cochin Shipyard Limited, is facing delay in the installation of gearboxes for the four powerful engines of the 40,000-tonne warship. As per estimates arrived at by the apex committee of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) last month, the warship can now be launched by the end of this year. This will be almost two years behind its original launch deadline of October 2010.
Once the hull of the warship is launched at the sea, the outfitting is likely to take another four years, hence the warship is expected to be delivered to the Navy only by 2016, which is two years behind its original schedule. Defence Minister AK Antony had laid its keel in February 2009.
In January this year, the under-construction ship was taken out of the dry dock and stationed in the waters without some of the equipment that should have been in place.
Sources said one of the gearboxes had been fitted while another one arrived at the yard a few weeks ago. To get it fitted, the ship will have to be taken back to the dry dock. An Indo-German collaboration that supplied gearboxes for the 5,000-tonne stealth warship, INS Shivalik, was chosen in this case also. The aircraft carrier is almost 10 times bigger. The first lot of gearboxes provided by the company was unacceptable and had to be designed afresh.
The contract was to have around 18,000 tonne of the warship ready at the time of the launch, but it is still short by around 4,000 tonne, sources said. The MoD and the Navy have conveyed their displeasure to the shipyard and asked it to get the warship back to the dry dock and simultaneously continue with other works till the gearbox issue is sorted out.
The MoD had allocated Rs 230 crore for the modernisation of the shipyard. Since a modular-style construction has been adopted, it is possible to work on other equipment at another site.
The primary reason for the delay is the highly complex nature of the warship that India is attempting along with its simultaneous efforts to localise production. India is the fifth country attempting to make such a warship, which will have fighter aircraft stationed at its deck. So far, only the USA, Russia, the UK and France have produced such warships. China is re-fitting the one that it purchased from Ukraine after the USSR broke up.
Strategically, this delay will affect the Indian ambition to have two aircraft carriers in its Naval fleet. At present, India has only one, the INS Viraat, which after a life extension, is slated to retire in 2015. It is 50-year-old and the fighter aircraft on its deck, the Sea Harriers, are no more produced now. The second aircraft carrier, the Russian-origin Admiral Gorshkov, is undergoing sea-trials in Russia and is set to join the Indian fleet early next year under its new name, the INS Vikramaditya. In case the IAC is not delivered till 2015 – which is unlikely as per the present status – the Navy will be left with only one aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya.