INS Vikrant sets sail for critical sea trials, What level of strength has the Indian aircraft carrier

India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier IAC Vikrant has set sail for the third phase of sea trials that will involve complex maneuvers to establish specific readings of how the ship performs in various conditions.

Recently, the frequent actions of the Indian Navy in the field of aircraft carriers have once again attracted close attention from the outside world. It first launched the next-generation carrier-based fighter tender, attracting the French Rafale-M and the US F/A-18E/F to compete for this large order. At present, it is generally believed that this is the Indian Navy’s preparation for its first domestic aircraft carrier “Vikrant”, but in fact, “Vikrant” also went to sea for the third sea trial on January 9. The Indian Navy is developing vigorously in the two fields of aircraft carrier platform and carrier-based aircraft.

"Vikrant" for the third sea trial
“Vikrant” for the third sea trial

It should be said that due to the rapid development of the Chinese navy in the field of aircraft carriers, especially after equipping two 60,000-ton aircraft carriers, the overall size of the aircraft carrier has actually ranked second in the world, second only to the United States Navy (the second ship of the British Navy not yet in service).

However, in terms of historical origin, the development of the Indian aircraft carrier is much earlier than that of the Chinese Navy. During this period, it has experienced many aircraft carriers from the United Kingdom and Russia, and the carrier-based aircraft has also changed from the first generation “Sea Hawk” of World War II, later “Harrier” vertical take-off and landing fighter, and the current MiG-29K, have been around for 60 years.

chinese aircraft carrier liaoning (Left) and Shandong (Right)
Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning (Left) and Shandong (Right)

As early as 1961, through good relations with the United Kingdom, India obtained the “Dignity”-class “Hercules” aircraft carrier built by the latter during World War II, with a full-load displacement of 19,000 tons. Since the United Kingdom took the lead in applying angled decks, steam catapults and optical landing systems on aircraft carriers in the late 1950s, these three equipment, known as the three major pieces of aircraft carrier standards in later generations, were also successfully applied to the “Hercules”. In 1961, the “Hercules” was renamed “Vikrant” and officially joined the Indian Navy in November of that year, making it the first maritime force in an Asian country to be equipped with a formal aircraft carrier after the end of World War II.

INS "Vikrant" (R11) in the early years
INS “Vikrant” (R11) in the early years

In the third Indo-Pakistani war, the “Vikrant” performed well, which made the Indian Navy accelerate the pace of its aircraft carrier development. It just so happens that the aircraft carrier HMS Athletics, which the British Navy used in the Falklands Battle at the time, was sold in the mid-1980s due to its long service time (it was the fourth “Centaur” class ship built in the late World War II). As a result, the two countries quickly reached an agreement, and the British officially delivered the “Sports God” to the Indian Navy in 1987 and changed its name to “Virat” with The famous “Harrier” vertical take-off and landing fighter. At the same time, the Indian Navy also took the opportunity to transform the first “Vikrant”, retired the old “Seahawk”, and also carried the “Harrier”. Coupled with the introduction of about 30 Harriers from the United Kingdom, the Indian Navy has successfully formed a dual aircraft carrier formation that was very rare in the world at that time.

Indian Navy Sea Harrier vertical Landing
Indian Navy Sea Harrier vertical Landing

Of course, the glory of this dual aircraft carrier is not long. In 1997, the “Vikrant” was difficult to operate due to its long service life. The Indian Navy once again returned to the state of only one aircraft carrier. The Indian Navy, which has realized the advantages of dual aircraft carriers, is not reconciled and has begun to prepare ambitiously to build domestic aircraft carriers. At this time, the Russian Navy’s “Marshal Gorshkov” aircraft carrier (formerly “Kiev” class “Baku”) was in semi-retirement due to a boiler fire and was looking for an international buyer. After some exchanges between the two sides, The Russian agree to sell India.

In addition, the Indian Navy also provided funds to improve the technology of the MiG-29K carrier-based aircraft and set up a production line to be carried on the modified “Marshal Gorshkov”. After many twists and turns, the aircraft carrier was successfully delivered in November 2013 and was named “Vikramaditya”, which once again formed a dual aircraft carrier formation with the “Virat”, which had not yet been retired at the time. This time, however, the dual carrier lasted for a shorter period than the previous one, which ended four years later in 2017 with the retirement of the Virat. The Indian-made Vikrant, which was supposed to take its place (this is a new one), was not ready at that time.

INS Vikramaditya
MIG-29K aircraft on board INS Vikramaditya aircraft carrier

Although its construction started around 2009, after several twists and turns, the power system, marine steel, and shipboard equipment it carried were also changed many times, which delayed a lot of time. The shipyard was also upgraded to construct aircraft carrier, so it is a dilemma that it has been launched many times to make room. In fact, although the “Vikrant” has gone to sea for the third time in recent days, it has not really been equipped with shipborne radar so far, and there is no arresting cable on the deck.

For now, the Indian Navy “Vikramaditya” is equipped with Russian-made MiG-29K carrier-based aircraft. India has introduced a total of 45 MiG-29Ks from Russia in two batches. But lost 4 aircraft in different incidents. The “Vikramaditya”, can carry 36 aircraft. The number of MiG-29Ks can basically only meet the needs of this aircraft carrier. More importantly, the MiG-29K is only an early third-generation model. Judging from the fact that the Chinese Navy is equipped with J-15, the MiG-29K 29K has been difficult to meet the needs of the Indian Navy.

The Indian-made LCA fighter, although it has successfully carried out take-off and landing tests on the aircraft carrier, is obviously too small to support the development strategy of the Indian Navy’s aircraft carrier. Therefore, choosing an advanced carrier-based aircraft for the “Vikrant” is an urgent need of the Indian Navy. At present the most favorable situation for the Indian Navy to choose between the F/A-18E/F and the Rafale-M.

Both are advanced models 4.5th gen aircraft, but both of them have only served on catapult aircraft carriers. Although they have also undergone ski-jump take-off tests, they have not been officially deployed on ski-jump aircraft carriers. Verify from the airframe level, the Rafale-M is smaller in size, and the constantly improving aviation theory and advanced software control system can also solve the negative problems caused by canards to the ship’s take-off and landing. Compared with the larger and heavier F/A-18E/F, it is more suitable for service on the Indian Navy’s 40,000-ton aircraft carrier, and can also be used with the Rafale F3 type equipped by the Indian Air Force. corresponding cost. It can be said that the probability of Rafale-M appearing on the Indian aircraft carrier in the future is the highest.


Once the problems of the carrier-based aircraft and the “Vikrant” itself are resolved, the Indian Navy had previously expected that a dual-aircraft carrier formation consisting of two 40,000-ton-class medium-sized aircraft carriers would truly take shape. Double aircraft carrier formation. However, to the dismay of the Indian Navy, the Chinese Navy, which is often used as a reference opponent, is currently equipped with two 60,000-ton aircraft carriers.

According to the current progress of the “Vikrant”, when it is actually commissioned, It will surpass the Chinese navy carrier group, While India also considering a second homemade nuclear powered aircraft carrier “Vishal”.

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