China, while operating a refurbished Russian vessel, is still in the early stages of building its own indigenous design.
When completed, the Indian carrier’s angled flight deck will be capable of simultaneously launching and landing up to 36 specialist naval aircraft — including its own homegrown combat jet, the LCA Tejas.
India developed the 260m long vessel largely through its own efforts, though it is currently engaged in talks with the United States for technology sharing assistance in developing a second — 65,000 tonne — ship, likely to be named Vishal.
This larger warship is likely to include a catapult aircraft launching system, and possibly nuclear powered propulsion.
India’s government has declared aircraft carrier construction “a priority”, accelerating the completion of Vikrant in order to maintain its regional influence amid Asia’s developing arms race. It’s also developing its own nuclear-powered submarines.
The former British aircraft carrier Hermes — launched in 1944, veteran of the Falklands War and named Viraat in Indian service — is due to be retired next year. A refurbished former Soviet aircraft carrier, the Vikramaditya, was accepted into Indian service in 2013.
Australia’s government has repeatedly expressed a lack of confidence in the nation’s shipbuilding capability, a low point being reached when former Defence Minister David Johnston said: “I wouldn’t trust them to build a canoe.”
Ongoing government criticism of increasing cost-blowouts, technical difficulties and quality of the management of the state-owned shipbuilder ASC has again intensified in recent months. Government board appointee Sophie Mirabella is expected to soon resign her $71,680 director role and seek Liberal preselection for her former seat of Indi.
Prime Minister Tony Abbot has also taken the unusual step of abandoning formal procurement and tender processes for the awarding of the contract to build a next generation of submarines, instead implementing a poorly defined “competitive evaluation process”. He has previously declared the Japanese offering to be his favoured option.
And as Australia’s newest warship — the helicopter carrying troop transport HMAS Canberra — shakes down in her first year of service, a surge of similar ships are entering service throughout Asia.
China remains the greatest unknown in the new Pacific power play: While it has repeatedly declared it plans to build between six and 10 floating airfields, exactly what form this first generation of ships will take is yet to be seen. However, testing aboard its ex-Soviet warship, the Liaoning, continues at an intensive rate.
Japan is busily building what it deceptively calls “helicopter destroyers” to avoid conflict under the pacifist constitution imposed upon it after World War II. “Aircraft carriers” are inherently an power-projection system, not an item of self-defence.
Nevertheless, the new Hyuga and Izumo class ships are specifically designed to operate helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft — and have no amphibious troop-deployment role.
South Korea hopes to be operating three helicopter carriers by the end of the decade, and Thailand boasts one “Harrier-carrier”, the HTMS Chakri Naruebet.
Britain’s Royal Navy is about to receive the first of two very large aircraft carriers. However HMS Queen Elizabeth will likely be at sea for several years without its primary weapon system — the F-35B stealth fighter — due to development and budget delays.
One potential player in the Pacific has recently suffered a serious setback: Russia had plans to deploy two of the four Mistral-class LHD (helicopter carrying troop ships) it had purchased from France to the region. These ships remain tied up to French wharves as part of punitive sanctions following the invasion of Crimea and Ukraine and are unlikely to ever be handed over.
Talk of Russia building a 100,000 ton behemoth capable of carrying 100 combat aircraft at this point appears to be just that: Talk.
As Asia surges ahead, an increasingly cash-strapped United States is struggling to come to grips with the exorbitant price of maintaining its unmatched fleet of nuclear-powered super carriers. Nevertheless, work continues on its Ford-class super ships — which cost a cool $US12 billion each — even as the number of vessels capable of protecting them shrinks.
The India Navy first indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant undocked for the first time yesterday.