INS Vikrant is India’s first home-made aircraft carrier. Countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, China, Russia, France and Japan are the others which have the technical know-how and capability to create such complex and large warships
“INS Vikrant is not a mere war machine but proof of India’s skill and talent. It is special, different.”
With these words, Prime Minister Narendra Modi scripted history in India, commissioning the first indigenously designed and built aircraft carrier — INS Vikrant — from Cochin Shipyard Limited in Kerala.
The new INS Vikrant, named after her predecessor, is a complex warship that will boost India’s maritime capabilities. The 262-metre long and 62-metre wide carrier displaces approximately 43,000 tonnes when fully loaded, having a maximum designed speed of 28 knots with endurance of 7500 NM.
Built at an estimated cost of Rs 20,000 crore, it has state-of-the-art features and can operate air wing consisting of 30 aircraft, including MiG-29K fighter jets, besides the domestically manufactured Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH).
With this milestone, India joins an elite league of nations that are capable of developing such large and complex warships. According to recent figures, there are a total of 46 aircraft carriers in the world, including 25 Helo carriers (a warship whose primary purpose is to operate helicopters).
We take a look at this club of nations and their ship-building capabilities.
America has a long history of manufacturing aircraft carriers.
The US Navy’s first purpose-built carriers were the Yorktown class. It had three ships: Yorktown, Enterprise, and Hornet. They were over 800 feet long, had a crew of 2,900, and could carry 80 to 90 aircraft.
With With World War II looming, two more classes of carriers were commissioned under President Franklin Roosevelt: the Essex-class and the Independence-class. The Essex-class carriers became the backbone of the US Navy’s strength during the war. The carriers were used long after World War II and were constantly upgraded and modified. Some were given angled flight decks and the ability to carry jets. A few carriers even served in Vietnam. The last Essex-class carrier, used as a training ship, was decommissioned in 1991.
As time progressed, America kept making innovations in its aircraft carriers. Today, the only carriers in service with the US Navy are the 10 Nimitz-class carriers and the new Gerald R Ford-class, which was commissioned in 2017.
Ford-class carriers are about 1,100 feet long, have a crew of 4,500, and can carry 75 aircraft, including the US Navy’s new F-35C stealth fighter.
The ships feature a suite of new technology and systems, including the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System, which uses electromagnetic power instead of steam.
The United Kingdom experimented with the aircraft carrier back during World War I. It developed HMS Argus, the first true carrier with an unobstructed flight deck.
Then came HMS Hermes, which spent a total of 58 years in the British and Indian navies. A conventionally powered Centaur-class flattop wasn’t launched until 1953 and entered service with the Royal Navy in 1959.
During the Falklands War in 1982, the HMS Hermes was the flagship of the British armada, leading more than 100 ships to the South Atlantic to reclaim the islands from the Argentines.
Hermes’ post-Falklands life was brief. After a refit and an exercise, the carrier was decommissioned in 1984, but that wasn’t the end of its career. The carrier was sold to India in 1986 and after undergoing modifications, the carrier was commissioned into the Indian Navy as INS Viraat in a ceremony held in the UK in May 1987.
Today, the British Navy has two carriers in service — HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales. Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales both displace approximately 72,000 tonnes fully loaded and measure 920 feet long. The ships use a conventional propulsion system.
Recently, the HMS Prince of Wales, developed at a cost of £3 billion, made headlines when it ground to a halt — less than hours after setting sail to undertake training exercises with the US Navy and Marine Corps and the Royal Canadian Navy.
In 1967 the Soviets launched Moskva, a helicopter carrier, followed by her sister Leningrad two years later. They were 12,000-ton antisubmarine ships typically embarking fourteen Kamov helicopters. Both were retired in the 1990s.
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union developed Admiral Kuznetsov, the largest conventionally powered carrier in the world.
Built at Ukraine’s Nikolayev shipyards Kuznetsov displaces 58,000 tonnes and is 1,000 feet long. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the ship saw little use, but Russian president Vladimir Putin has used the ship as a symbol of Russia’s resurgence on the world stage, sending it to Syria on combat deployments.
It also developed the Kiev-class aircraft carriers. At 899 feet, the ships were approximately 85 per cent as long as the US Navy’s new Nimitz-class carriers.
Of the four Kiev-class aircraft carriers, Baku remained and was later sold to the Indian government to be converted into a full aircraft carrier. Converted by Russia’s Sevmash shipyards in the 2000s and 2010s, today it is known as the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya and is the flagship of the Indian fleet.
China has come a long way from the 1970s when it expressed its desire to develop and operate their own aircraft carriers.
In 2016, they transformed a Soviet aircraft carrier into Liaoning — the first for the Asian giant. It was in 2019, that China built its own aircraft carrier — Shandong. Manufactured by Dalian Shipyard, it can displace roughly 66,000–70,000 tonnes and has a maximum speed of around 31 knots.
The Shandong is an estimated 304 metres long and is capable of housing 1,900 crew members.
In June, China launched its new-generation aircraft carrier — the Type 003 carrier christened Fujian. The Fujian uses electromagnetic catapults and arresting devices to enable planes to take off and land on its deck. The ship has a displacement of more than 80,000 tonnes.
The Fujian will now start mooring and sea trials. The launch of the Fujian is part of an ongoing effort to modernise the People’s Liberation Army Navy.
As of now, France has one operating aircraft carrier — Charles de Gaulle — named after the country’s most revered statesman of the 20th century.
Built by DCN (Direction des Constructions Navales) Brest naval shipyard in Brittany, her keel was laid on 14 April 1989, she was launched on 7 May 7 1994 and she made her maiden voyage on 18 May 2001.
The ship has a hull length of 261.5 metres (858 feet), a beam of 64.36 metres (211.2 feet), a height of 66.5 metres, and a draught of 9.43 metres (30.9 feet), with a displacement of 38,000 tonnes. In terms of firepower, the aircraft carrier can host up to 40 aircraft, including 24 Dassault Rafale M multirole fighters (prior to 2016 this role was filled by the Dassault-Breguet Super-Étendard), two E-2C Hawkeyes, two NFH Caiman Marine helicopters, one Eurocopter AS565 Panther, and two AS365 Dauphin (‘Dolphin’) Pedro choppers.
There are reports that France will now build its second aircraft carrier with better and more advanced technologies.
Forbes has reported that the new ship will displace as much as 75,000 tonnes of water, and she will be larger than Charles de Gaulle. The new ship is expected to also be able to host more aircraft on board.
When Japan launched an attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Japanese devised a mission which included all six of the nation’s first-line aircraft carriers, Akagi, Kaga, Sorya, Hiryu, Shokaku and Zuikaku. All of these ships were developed by the Japanese, displaying their military capabilities even then
Post the war, Japan banned aircraft carriers as tools of offensive warfare.
However, 80 years later, citing concerns about the growing Chinese Navy and the construction of China’s own carriers, Japan has announced it would convert helicopter carriers Izumo and Kaga into ships capable of launching and recovering F-35B Joint-Strike Fighters.
With inputs from agencies
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