The commissioning of India’s second aircraft carrier has been delayed till September next year because of the Covid-19 pandemic. While reconciling to this setback, the Navy remains all the more keen to push its case for a third aircraft carrier as well as two new fighter squadrons to counter China’s expanding footprint in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
As the US recently displayed in the South China Sea, much to China’s discomfort, nothing projects raw combat power like an aircraft carrier strike group (CSG) capable of moving over 500 nautical miles (900 km) in a single day.
But India, which has currently deployed the bulk of its warships and submarines in the IOR to send a clear signal to Beijing, is in danger of losing its decisive edge over China in the CSG arena.
Sources say the “basin trials” of the first indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC-I) being built at the Cochin Shipyard, which would have checked the 40,000-tonne warship’spropulsion, transmission and shafting systems, have been derailed by the pandemic.
The basin trials of IAC-I, first sanctioned by the government way back in January 2003, are to be followed by extensive sea trials. It’s only after IAC-I gets commissioned in September 2021 now, and is christened INS Vikrant, that the “flight trials” will be launched to make the carrier fully operational by 2022-2023.
The continuing delay in IAC-I, being constructed for Rs 22,590 crore, comes when China already has two aircraft carriers, while two more are being frenetically constructed. With the eventual aim to have a 10-carrier Navy by 2050, China is expected to begin deploying a CSG in the IOR within the next few years to take care of its “Malacca Dilemma”.