Kochi, Aug 12 (IANS) India Monday launched its first indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC) "Vikrant", joining the select group of three other nations having naval platforms of such complexity and size.
The warship was launched by Elizabeth Antony, wife of Defence Minister A.K. Antony, after the chanting of mantras. She broke a coconut before launching it down the slipway and into water.
Speaking on the occasion, the defence minister described the launch of the aircraft carrier as a "momentous day" for the navy and the country.
"It is indeed a proud moment for the country to witness our efforts at achieving self-reliance in the field of warship design and construction as very few countries possess the capability to design and develop aircraft carriers," he said.
Antony said India should continue to strengthen its indigenous capabilities to secure maritime interests and the warship building programme must meet the Navy's force level requirements.
"Our Navy must continue to maintain high operational readiness at all times to ward off any likely misadventure," he said.
Antony said that over the years the Navy has made a distinct shift, from being "a buyer's navy to a builder's navy".
He also mentioned the successful test flight of Prithvi II missile Monday, and the nuclear reactor on nuclear-powered submarine Arihant getting critical early Saturday.
"Many areas, we are achieving... In spite of difficulties, we are marching forward," he said.
Chief of Naval Staff Admiral D.K. Joshi said the launch of the IAC was a "historic moment not only for the Navy but the entire nation".
"The Navy is committed to indigensation as a matter of policy. Focus is on self-reliance," he said, and added that 46 of 47 ships on order were being built in India.
He hoped that the Cochin Shipyard Limited (CSL), which is building the warship, will compress timelines wherever feasible "so that IAC is operationalised at the earliest".
CSL chairman K. Subramaniam said the launch was a red-letter day in the history of warship building in the country.
Standing at about 25 metres above water with its construction completed till the flight deck, the IAC appears mammoth and muscular. Its flight deck is over twice the size of a football field, its power unit can light up the entire Kochi city and the cabling is enough to cover the distance between here and Delhi.
Launched at approximate displacement (weight) of 18,500 tonnes, the IAC will be redocked at CSL for erecting the island superstructure (for flight control systems) above its flight deck and the remaining underwater work.
Major outfitting work is expected to be completed by 2016, after which extensive sea trials will be conducted. The carrier is scheduled to be delivered to the navy by the end of 2018. Once commissioned, its displacement will be around 40,000 tonnes.
IAC is expected to be the centrepiece of the Indian Navy's strengths in coming years, and will help project India's power beyond its shores.
It will be equipped with modern weapons systems including long range surface-to-air missiles (LR SAM) and close-in weapons system (CIWS).
Over thirty aircraft, including indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), MiG-29K combat jets and a range of helicopters can be deployed on the carrier.
The IAC will be 260 metre in length and 60 m in breadth, and can attain speeds in excess of 28 knots (56 km per hour). It will have a crew of about 1,450.
Decorated with flags, garlands and colourful umbrellas, IAC's launch was marked with festivity and gaiety. Balloons rose into the air as Elizabeth Antony set the warship to sail.
She named it "Vikrant" after India's first aircraft carrier which has been de-commissioned.
Shipping Minister G.K. Vasan was also present.
Navy officials said India will be the fourth country after the US, Russia and France to have undertaken aircraft carrier projects of 40,000 tonnes.
The IAC has been designed by Indian Navy's design organisation.
Officials said the Navy plans to have three aircraft carriers, one each for the seas along eastern and western coasts and one for requirements of maintenance.
Aircraft carrier Vikramaditya (Admiral Gorshkov) is expected to be delivered to the Navy by the end of this year.
(Prashant Sood can be contacted at email@example.com)