India’s Troubled First Aircraft Carrier INS Vikrant Conducts First Ever Sea Trials

Over twelve years after being laid down in February 2009, India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier the INS Vikrant commenced its maiden sea trials on August 4th, with the trials commencing on the 50th anniversary of the country’s victory over Pakistan and the separation of East Pakistan to become the state of Bangladesh. 

The warship displaces approximately 40,000 tons, making it smaller than the country’s current carrier the Soviet-built carrier INS Vikramaditya, and uses the same STOBAR launch system likely with the same MiG-29K and Tejas fighter jets - the latter which is still under development. 

This launch system does limit fighters’ capabilities, however, relative to steam and electromagnetic launch systems such as those on American Nimitz and Gerald Ford Class ships and China’s new Type 002 Class carrier. Where most carriers rely on accompanying destroyers for air defense, the INS Vikrant notably comes equipped with its own air defense system in the form of 32 launch cells for Barak 8 surface-to-air missiles. 

The Vikrant conducted its basin trials in December 2020, almost twelve years after the ship began construction in February 2009, making it one of the longest warship building programs in modern history despite its relatively modest size for a carrier. 

Although the carrier program has been hailed domestically as a significant step towards the country’s development of an indigenous shipbuilding capability, delays and serious cost overruns have caused significant embarrassment for the country’s defense sector. 

The Vikrant was initially planned to cost $500 million, although this sum grew to approximately $3.5 billion, or 700% of the original price, over its years under construction. With the ship already well over half a decade behind schedule, Indian reports in 2018 and even into 2019 claimed the Vikrant would be ready for sea trials in 2020, with its failure to achieve this representing the latest of several delays which have plagued almost every major stage of development. Problems with the program have led to widespread predictions that India will be dissuaded from pursuing a further carrier program for the foreseeable future. 

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