New Delhi: India thinks of itself as an emerging superpower but does not have a single operational aircraft carrier as of now. Its solitary aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya, will be ready for action only after eight months due its ongoing maintenance refit.
More alarmingly, the 44,570-tonne INS Vikramaditya will in all probability have to soldier on alone for the next six-seven years. In its report tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, the CAG said the already long-delayed 40,000-tonne indigenous aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, will be ready only by 2023 as per its constructor Cochin Shipyard.
Nothing projects raw combat power like an aircraft carrier prowling on the high seas, ready to unleash its fighter jets and missiles against any adversary. So, whenever the US launches a military strike, or flies the flag against a belligerent China in the South China Sea, it turns to its 10 Nimitz-class nuclear-powered “super-carriers” deployed around the globe. China, too, visualises aircraft carriers as “symbols of a great nation”.
India, however, continues to flounder in first formulating and then executing longterm strategic plans in tune with its geopolitical aspirations. The Navy for long has been demanding three aircraft carriers, one each for the western and eastern sea-boards, with the third being under refit at any given time. But the CAG report, with a detailed critique of the shoddy planning and project execution in INS Vikrant’s construction, junks the notion of even a two-carrier force till 2023.
Moreover, the report says the MiG-29K fleet – India ordered 45 fighters from Russia for $2 billion for INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant – is “riddled with problems” due to defects in the fighter airframes, RD-33 MK engines and fly-by-wire systems. Consequently, the serviceability or operational availability of MiG-29Ks is pathetic – ranging from just 15.93 per cent to 37.63 per cent.
The Navy, however, is quite confident of getting INS Vikrant, which was first approved in May 1999 with its construction beginning in November 2006, by December 2018. “INS Vikrant will not have its Russian aviation complex (aviation armaments, mobile systems, arresting gear, hydraulic stations and other equipment) and the Barak-8 long-range surface-to-air missile systems by then. But we are planning sea trials from 2018 onwards,” said a senior officer.
Even if the carrier is delivered by 2018-2019, it will not be able to operate MiG-29Ks from its deck without the aviation complex, nor be able to effectively protect itself without the Barak-8 missile system. As was first reported by TOI, defence minister Manohar Parrikar has put further orders for the Barak-8 systems designed by DRDO-Israel Aerospace Industries, with an over 70-km interception range against incoming enemy aircraft, drones and missile, on hold due to the high costs involved.
The CAG, on its part, says, “There is contuing disagreement over project timelines between the Navy and Cochin Shipyard, with realistic dates for delivery yet to be worked out.”