India joins elite club with launch of its own aircraft carrier

AFP-JIJI

India launched its first indigenously built aircraft carrier Monday, a landmark moment in a $5 billion project that seeks to project the country’s power and check the rising influence of China.

When the INS Vikrant comes into full service in 2018, India will become the fifth nation to have designed and built its own aircraft carrier, pushing ahead of China to join an elite club that includes Britain, France, Russia and the United States.

The ship, which will be fitted with weaponry and machinery and then tested over the next four years, is a major advance for a country competing for influence in Asia, analysts say.

“It is going to be deployed in the Indian Ocean region, where the world’s commercial and economic interests coalesce. India’s capability is very much with China in mind,” said Rahul Bedi, a defense expert with IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly.

On Saturday, India announced its first indigenously built nuclear submarine was ready for sea trials, a key step before it becomes fully operational. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called it a “giant stride” for the nation.

“All these are power projection platforms to project India’s power as an extension of its diplomacy,” Bedi said.

INS Vikrant is two years behind schedule after problems in sourcing specialized steel from Russia, delays with crucial equipment and even a road accident in which vital diesel generators were damaged.

Overall, India lags far behind China in defense capabilities, analysts say, making the success in beating its regional rival in the race to develop a domestically produced aircraft carrier significant.

China’s first carrier, the Liaoning, which was purchased from the Ukraine, went into service last September.

Beijing is reportedly planning to construct or acquire a bigger ship in the future.

Jane’s claimed earlier this month that it has seen evidence that China might be building its first carrier in a shipbuilding facility near Shanghai.