The Indian Navy's fleet of aircraft carrier, landing platform docks and minesweeping is diminishing. Many of the projects are in pipeline but will take more than five years to add on. Moreover, the over flooded order book of the DPSUs and urgent requirement have persuade government to shift its focus to private players, hence, creating opportunity for private shipyards.

India's oldest aircraft carrier, INS Viraat is finally decommissioned. It was first commissioned into the British Royal Navy as the HMS Hermes in 1959 and was decommissioned in 1985. Again, after refit, the aircraft carrier was commissioned into the Indian Navy on May 12, 1987. The Viraat consisted of the fighter jet, Sea Harriers, anti-submarine aircraft, Sea King Mk 42B, Harpoons, the Chetak and Dhruv helicopter and Kamov-31 aircrafts.

An aircraft carrier is a warship designed to support and operate aircraft, engaged in attacks on targets afloat or ashore and to undertake sustained operations in support of other forces. They also serve as mobile command and control centers and provide a coordinated situational awareness and analysis platform. Currently, Indian Navy is left with only aircraft carriers in service 'INS Vikamaditya' of 45,400 tonnes displacement.

The navy's aim is to have a total of three Aircraft carriers resulting in two fully operational Carrier battle groups and an additional Aircraft carrier eventually in refit, making India an operating blue-water Navy.

India has also undertaken the indigenous manufacturing of the Vikrant Class or Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC) under which two aircraft carriers are being built for the Indian Navy. The two vessels are the largest warships and the first aircraft carriers to be designed and built in India. Aircraft Carrier IAC-II is in planning


The ship was launched in Aug 2013 with the completion of the Hull construction and is expected to be delivered by end 2018. Director General Naval Design (DGND) designed 70 percent of the ship which is being built by Cochin Shipyard Limited (CSL). India also took help from an Italian company, Fincantieri which acted as design consultants for integrating the propulsion system, while a Russian firm, NDB, is contributing aviation technology.

The ship has a length of over 260 metres and breadth of 60 metres. It has two take-off runways and a landing strip with three arrester wires, capable of operating STOBAR aircraft including the indigenous LCA, as well as a range of helicopters with hangar facilities.

The realistic dates for delivery is yet not clear due to some factors such as late receipts of critical equipment like Diesel Alternators and Gear Boxes delayed launching of the ship. Continuing changes to HVAC3 design and delays in delivery of Aviation Facilities Complex equipment affected the construction schedule. Fresh projected completion date of the project is to be in 2023.

INS Vishal / IAC-II

Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) allotted Rs 30 Crores for early design efforts of INS Vishal the second Vikrant-class aircraft carrier and the design was undertaken by the navy's Naval Design Bureau in 2016 . The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is most likely to give Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) that will mean the official go-ahead from the Government to start work and funding will be allotted in accordance with the pace of development and construction. The broad specifications are likely to be:

  • The 65,000 tons carrier would have Conventional or Nuclear Propulsion system. The length of the carrier would be around 300 meters, with speed Greater than 30 knots (56 kilometres per hour) and would be capable to equip 30-35 fixed wing combat aircraft, and about 20 rotary wing aircraft (helicopters) and around 900 sailors
  • It would be equipped with a catapult to launch fixed wing aircraft, which would make the carrier a “catapult launched but arrested landing”, or CATOBAR vessel. Also to be equipped with an electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS); however the navy has specifically mentioned it as an option.

The proposed design of the second carrier IAC-II features significant changes from INS Vikrant (IAC-I), including an increase in displacement (65,000 tonne category) and proposes to incorporate nuclear propulsion, an EMALS Catapult-Take Off, But Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) system recovery, which is commonly used in the US carriers, is also under consideration. This would allow the carrier to launch aircraft at a faster rate with improved ease, compared to previous Indian carriers and will also allow the INS Vishal to launch a range of heavy fighters as well as surveillance planes like Airborne Early Warning (AEW) aircraft and Mid-Air Refueling Tankers. As of now, no Indian company/shipyard is capable of manufacturing these.

The feasibility study for IAC-II has begun and will take about 8-10 months based on which the design will be frozen. The approx development cost is expected to be $1.5-2 Billion and the commissioning which was earlier slated for 2022 has now been pushed to 2025-26.

Co-Development of Next-Generation Aircraft Carrier

Apart from the above indigenous programmes, there is also a plan in pipeline for co-development of next-generation aircraft carrier with United States (US). Earlier, the two countries have established a Joint Working Group on Aircraft Carrier Technology Cooperation, for the proposed aircraft carrier, which held its first meeting in August 2015. As of now, both the countries have initiated with the discussions to co-develop a next-generation aircraft carrier for the Indian Navy, but neither side has set up their goals in this regard. However, the next step would now involve a negotiation and signing of an information exchange agreement by both the countries allowing them to proceed further with the collaboration and allowing both the countries to bilaterally discuss design and techniques of design, characteristics design and sharing of information associated with the programme. The Joint Working Group on Aircraft Carrier Technology Cooperation, co-chaired by India and US representatives is part of the India-US Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI).

The ambitious long term plan that was recently revealed shows a road-map to blue water navy with six aircraft carriers. Whereas, 'INS Viraat' has already decommissioned and Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC-I) 'INS Vikrant' will not able to commissioned anytime soon with above planning schedule the IAC capability matrix is likely to be is depicted in the Fig.

Some other major platform which has been delayed  as IAC are:-

  • One of the largest defence project under 'Make in India' for the 4  landing platform docks (LPD) is expected to be awarded either of the two shortlisted shipyards Reliance Defence and L&T who are into direct competition, for  the Rs 20,000 crore orders.  These two shipyard capabilities have been assessed and are likely to compete for the tender likely  to be issued by Mid 2017. L&T had tied up with Spain's Navantia for the contract, Reliance Defence has an agreement with French shipbuilder DCNS. It is likely to take more than 10 years to build the LPD.
  • The other major capability gap include the lack of Minesweeping capabilities. The existing fleet of six Soviet-origin minesweeper on its way to be decommissioned in a year or so by next year. Thus the capability gap in to scouring its 24 harbours requiring at least 24 minesweepers to counter for potential mines and explosives threats for at least three years. MoD is processing   a Rs 32,640-crore deal with a South Korean Kangnam Corporation for building 12 mine counter-measure vessels (MCMVs), to be built at Goa Shipyard Limited (GSL) under the Make in India initiative, but the first of those is likely to be delivered only in 2021, even if deal is signed now.

Private Sector Participation

In addition to private sector participation in some of the ship building projects, the aircraft carriers, including the operational INS Vikramaditya, and other major platforms would be requiring periodic re-fits which again would be an area that would provide lucrative opportunity to the private shipyards. Recently, the overhaul worth $30 Million of the aircraft carrier INS Vikramadaitya has been bagged by the privately-owned Pipavav Shipyard. Taking these programmes into consideration, there exists above $5 Billion market for aircraft carriers including of sub-assemblies/components in the coming years.

As on date none of the existing Indian shipyards are capable of building a 65,000 tonne warship without substantial expansion but they do have requisite capability in manufacturing of sub-assemblies, components and parts. Estimations show that though more in number these privately held shipyards have an established capacity of about 27000 DWT and few more with even limited capacity but some expansion plans are now visible in this direction and they are catching up in this respect. The leading players in this segment include Pipavav, L&T, Bharati and ABG shipyards which have been able to secure naval orders in recent years. Amongst these, Pipavav, ABG, and L&T Shipbuilding Ltd have been able to secure defence license for shipbuilding and secured some defence orders.  The private sector companies are looking forward to this arena and tap the growing opportunities which till date were with the defence shipyards. This is not only the right step in ramping up of the sinking aircraft carrier fleet of the Indian Navy but a strong step towards indigenous shipbuilding manufacturing base.

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