India Launches Homegrown Aircraft Carrier

INS Vikrant to Carry Russian-Made MiG-29 Fighters

(WALL STREET JOURNAL 13 AUG 13) … Niharika Mandhana and Josh Chin

India launched its first homegrown aircraft carrier on Monday, part of a campaign to strengthen its naval presence in regional waters and counter an increasingly assertive China.

The INS Vikrant, whose name means “courageous” in Hindi, was built by the state-owned Cochin Shipyard in southern India. It will carry Russian-made MiG-29 fighters and join a U.K.-built carrier already in the Indian fleet.

Amid an Asia-wide arms race prompted by rising Chinese military spending, India has been modernizing its armed forces, turning out new submarines and other warships and investing in other weapons systems.

India said the Vikrant will be combat ready in 2018. Its launch puts India among a handful of nations to develop their own aircraft carriers – a ship central to modern naval power. The U.S., the U.K., France and Russia have also built carriers.

Monday’s launch “marks just the first step in a long journey, but at the same time an important one,” said Defense Minister A.K. Antony.

Chinese media widely covered the new vessel’s launch, with state-run Chinese Central Television citing experts as saying the “so-called indigenous aircraft carrier is actually a mixed brand” with international components.

An Indian defense ministry official said not all of Vikrant’s equipment was manufactured in India, saying that any warship needs international parts. The engines, for example, were manufactured by General Electric Co.

China’s navy began training maneuvers last year with its first carrier – the hull of which was purchased from Ukraine in 1998 – as part of its own wide-ranging effort to bolster its armed services.

Beijing’s increasingly well-equipped navy has been venturing further from its home waters, with warships sent on antipiracy patrols off Somalia and voyages between the islands of Japan into the Pacific.

Tensions between China and India – Asia’s two most populous nations – have flared at times, especially along the neighbors’ disputed Himalayan border. But India has been loath to antagonize China, its largest trading partner.

Still, Indian policy makers and defense analysts have grown increasingly worried about China’s presence in the Indian Ocean area. Beijing has funded port construction in Pakistan and Sri Lanka and its navy is more active.

“There is growing awareness in India of China’s presence in the Indian Ocean,” said Christian Le Miere, an expert on maritime security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

Monday’s launch and the expected addition of a Russian-built carrier to the Indian navy later this year could give India the ability to project power beyond the Indian Ocean and into East Asia.

In recent years, it has conducted a series of joint naval exercises with the U.S., Japan, Vietnam and Singapore in the East China and South China Seas. India and Vietnam are jointly exploring for oil in the South China Sea.

But, Harsh Pant, a professor of defense studies at King’s College in London, said India’s main focus is closer to home.

“At the moment, the theater of strategic significance for India is the Indian Ocean,” Mr. Pant said. “India does not want its commercial or energy trade hindered or its dominance eclipsed by China.”

In an interview with China’s CCTV, retired Chinese navy Rear Adm. Yin Zhuo said China shouldn’t be overly concerned about the Vikrant.

“I don’t think the Indian aircraft carrier is aimed at China at all,” Mr. Yin said. “Of course, with a carrier battle group, they’ll want to enter the Pacific. If they enter the Pacific, that involves China. But they’re not a military opponent.”

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