The 45,000-ton vessel -- 'a floating airfield and a floating town' -- will carry a crew of 1,600 and a fleet of 30 aircraft will operate from it

The commissioning of India’s first indigenously designed and built aircraft carrier INS Vikrant marks a watershed event for the Indian Navy and the country. It is a milestone on the road to self-reliance in defence manufacturing and has propelled the country into a select group of countries that have the capability to design and build aircraft carriers.

The 45,000-ton vessel -- “a floating airfield and a floating town” -- will carry a crew of 1,600 and a fleet of 30 aircraft will operate from it. It was built at a cost of over Rs 20,000 crore. It replaces the old INS Vikrant, which served the country for decades and played an important role in the Bangladesh liberation war. The old carrier, which was bought from the UK, was decommissioned in the 1990s and the search for a new carrier started then, culminating in the new INS Vikrant.

The carrier was designed by the navy’s Warship Design Bureau and built by Cochin Shipyard. It has over 75 per cent indigenous content, which includes the higher-grade steel used for warships. Some critical technology was imported but the building of the aircraft carrier will give the country the confidence to set bigger targets in defence manufacturing and achieve them. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that it bore testimony to the government’s ‘Atmanirbhar’ program.

But it must be noted that the designing of the ship began in 1999 and its keel was laid in 2009. It was floated out of dry dock in 2011 and launched into the sea in 2013. That it took nine years from then to commissioning now is a cause for worry. It must be noted that it is still not fully operational as a warship. Even berthing facilities are yet to be created in Vizag, which will be its home port.

INS Vikrant, the country’s second aircraft carrier now will, along with INS Vikramaditya, help raise the strength, reach and profile of Indian Navy and project its power far from the country’s shores. It is very relevant and significant when the Chinese navy is increasingly active in the Indo-Pacific region. China has maritime claims against many countries of the region and is trying to assert itself as its foremost naval power. India has declared its commitment to ensuring a “free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific” and has promised to help the Indian Ocean Rim (IOR) nations under Mission SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region). It also needs to ensure the security of trade routes in the region. The Indian Navy, with Vikrant leading, will have a key role in protecting the country’s interests that inhere in these objectives.