Brief history of INS Vikrant: India's first indigenous aircraft carrier

We took 15 years to build the ship including 9 years since its launch in 2013. But such endeavours of national strategic importance need time & persistence.

BHPian V.Narayan recently shared this with other enthusiasts.

The need to find a replacement for the old INS Vikrant and its super ageing Hawker Seahawks started to be felt by the mid-1970s. INS Vikrant then was a ship in late middle age at 30+ years since launch and fitted with literally WW2 machinery, especially her boilers, electricals and lifts. But there was nothing on the horizon. Only USA & France made real aircraft carriers and neither would build one for us nor could we afford them by a zillion miles.

The British Invincible class was considered briefly but once again the $ came into play. Just to give you an idea in c.1980 when we placed our order for the Sea Harriers and took delivery of our first 5000 tonne Kashin class guided-missile destroyer they both cost us Rs 60 crores a piece in that era's money - about US$ 60mm of then $. It shows how much the Soviets were subsidizing us.

Falklands War and the subsequent availability of HMS Hermes came to our rescue. The Sea Harriers were certainly very modern, though short-ranged, aircraft and the Hermes was only slightly more modern than INS Vikrant and was expected to last only till circa 2000. So with great effort, we kept the old girl steaming and kept the rare and valued skill of carrier operations alive. At this time c.1990 given the enormous cost of keeping a carrier & its aircraft in a good state of repair and operational we gave thought to moving down to helicopter carriers and giving up fixed-wing fast jet operations altogether.

The French offered us a through deck helicopter carrier design called PAH.xx {can't recall the numerals}. It was something like a diesel-driven Hyuga of the Japanese Navy that could provide anti-submarine and anti-ship sea control over an area. With the 1990-1992 financial crises that too went over the stern. But fate intervened in the form of the availability of the Kiev class Admiral Gorshkov. We did a detailed inspection of Gorshkov as far back as 1993-94 when she was in good material condition and then took a decade to decide on buying her!

So basically for the third time, we were only able to buy a second line carrier to keep naval aviation and force projection alive. Simultaneously we started work on IAC-1 {Indigenous Aircraft Carrier Nos 1}. Initially in a preliminary evaluative way and from 1999 in a definitive way.

Designing a carrier, which other than being a very large warship has an unusual structure is not easy. And we had our share of difficulties to overcome. A carrier by definition has a giant hollow box running through about 2/3rds of the ship, across the width and 3 decks high and it cannot have structural pillar impediments! This also then means that those wide gas turbine air intakes and even larger off takes (exhausts) must run beneath the hangar deck and then twist their way to the starboard side. And of course, all your deck items - bridge, self defense armaments, electronics must somehow be packed into an island on the right or on the fringes and corners of the flight deck. Marrying all this with survival requirements and stability with XX compartments flooded add to the design challenges.

The uptakes and downtakes of gas turbines {unlike diesels or steam turbines} are so large - hollow & unobstructed - that they are a major stability risk factor in case flooding were to happen. The Americans I assume helped with the layout of the engine room. The ski jump was our own design. A ski-jump unlike its simple looks is a mathematically complex design with a change in angle every so many centimeters. To maximize take-off weight a ski jump's angle, curvature and length must be customized for the weight, take-off speed & power loading of the aircraft planned.

We took 15 years to build the ship including 9 years since its launch in 2013. This sounds a lot to us and indeed it is a lot. But such endeavours of national strategic importance need time and persistence. Hopefully the next time around we'll be quicker on our feet. I hope we build a Vikrant Mark II and don't fritter away the learnings and skilled manpower. The present administration is more hawkish than any we've seen thus far and I hope good sense will prevail.

Stalwarts of Indian Naval aviation and shipbuilding who have sailed over the horizon like Admiral RH Tahiliani, Commodore YN Singh, Rear Admiral Prakash Gour, Vice Admiral SC Chopra and others who are still with us like Rear Admiral SK Gupta MVC, Admiral Arun Prakash must be beaming with pride.

When this mighty ship commissions on the landmark date of 15-8-22 it will be a proud day specifically for Indian aviation, Indian ship designers and builders and of course the Indian Navy itself. Jai Hind.

Check out BHPian comments for more insights and information.

Power to the people