Why Aircraft Carriers are Very Important for Indian Navy, China Vs Indian Navy

Indian Navy pic of INS Vikramadithya

Aircraft carriers are the capital ships of the 21st century. It is essentially a floating airbase, with its own runway to deploy attack aircrafts at very short notice. They have been part of navies for nearly a decade. They aspire of them so much even if it is eats up a lot of money, I mean a lot.  Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, RN; former First Sea Lord (head) of the British Royal Navy, has said “To put it simply, countries that aspire to strategic international influence have aircraft carriers”.

The only aircraft carriers prowling the South Asian seas are Indian Navy’s Vikramadithya and Chinese Navy’s Liaoning. Both share the same first user in the form of Soviet Union. Both nation’s are engaged in making another aircraft carrier which would be commissioned real soon. It is the need of the hour for both nations to induct aircraft carriers to their fleet to protect their maritime interests.

INS Vikrant (R11) clicked during 1984. It’s air elements like Alize, Sea Hawks are also seen, Credits:ArunPrakash/WikimediaCommons

Indian Navy has a record of operating these ‘huge’ sea monsters. The first aircraft carrier of the Indian Navy was the INS Vikrant (R11), formerly HMS Hercules,  saw active duty in World War II for the British. It played a decisive role in the naval blockade of East Pakistan during the 1971 war. Her legendary fleet of Sea Hawks rained hell over the Pkaistani forces in the battle over Chittagong. What is really intersting is that, it was also the first and only CATOBAR aircraft carrier IN has ever operated. The CATOBAR was however replaced with a 9.75deg ski-jump when Sea Harriers were inducted.

INS Viraat (R22) with its air elements Sea King and Sea Harriers. Credits: Indian Navy

The next in line is the INS Viraat (R22), a former British Centaur class carrier from which Indian Navy operated its squadron of Sea Harriers. For the Royal Navy it saw active duty in Falkland Islands campaign under the name HMS Hermes. It was decommissioned by British during 1984 and sold to India. Indian Navy formally decommissioned the legend on 6 March 2017. When in service it was the oldest aircraft carrier in operation, with 57 years in active service.

Then comes the latest addition to our armada. The former Soviet Kiev-class carrier, now the lone carrier of the Indian Navy-INS Vikramadithya. Originally named Baku and later changed to Admiral Gorshkov but was short lived due to the fall of Soviet Union. It was the perfect time for India to capture the opportunity and bagged the carrier.

The carrier was initially a hybrid cruiser/carrier combining both firepower and air power. They were built with rivaling the US Kitty Hawk class carriers in mind but had to compromise in size for cost effectiveness.

‘BAKU’ during operations. It’s massive arsenal includes forward facing canisters hold the P-500 SSM, credits:WikimediaCommons

The Kiev class carriers were essentially carriers high on steroids. With its own arsenal of hard hitting missiles, they provided the essential support for missile submarines. Soviet Navy classified them as “heavy aviation cruiser” rather than  an aircraft carrier. The armament of the last ship in class ‘BAKU’ included:

  • 24x 8cell  surface-to-air missiles (9K330-Tor)
  • 6x twin P-500BAZALT Surface to Surface missiles
  • 2x100mm dual-purpose guns
  • 8x  AK630 CIWS
  • 10x 21″ torpedo tubes
  • 2x RBU-6000 Anti-Submarine rocket launchers
  • Air element: YAK-38 VTOL aircrafts

When the Indian government signed the deal with Russia for the procurement of Baku/Gorshkov, its massive armament was stripped of and underwent a complete makeover for the STOBAR ski ramp. Due to Russia’s deep connection with India, the ship was offered for free and the only cost was for the refit and upgrades. it totaled to a massive nearly USD 2bn in cost making it the single most costliest carrier project Indian Navy has been a part of.

INS Vikramadithya(left) alongside the lone Russian carrier Admiral Kuznetsov at Severomorsk, credits: Gorbatuy111/russianplanes.net/WikimediaCommons

The ship underwent massive refits at the Russian port of Sevmash. The upgrades are in compliance with latest technology giving the Indian Navy the sharpest teeth in its flotilla.

INS Vikramadithya is the lone combat read carrier in the Indian Sub-continent. Boasting of an air wing of 26x Mig-29K Naval role fighters and 10x (Ka-31 AEW&C + Ka-28 ASW helicopters).

A nightshot of the INS Vikramadithya’s flight deck, Indian Navy pic
  • Type: STOBAR Carrier
  • Displacement: 44,500 T
  • Length (overall) : 284 m
  • Maximum Beam : 60 m
  • Speed : over 30 kts (56kmph)
  • Propulsion: 8x turbo-pressurized boilers powering 4 propellors.
  • Endurance: over 45 days in sea without docking
  • Range: 13000km+ at cruising speed


There is a huge difference between Vikramadithya and Liaoning. They are of same origin but Vikramadithya is combat ready and Liaoning is not. The Chinese do not plan to use the Liaoning for naval operations but bought it only for training their personnel on operating an aircraft carrier. The Chinese are way behind, experience wise compared to the Indian Navy. While India has a history of operating carriers, China is only getting its first touch with carriers.

Liaoning during sea trials, credits to Owners

The bad news is China is fast-tracking the development of carriers to add to their naval power. A Type-001A carriers is already in construction and would be a STOBAR type. It would be have a displacement of nearly 70,000tonnes powered by conventional engines.

Infographic on size difference between major carriers, Credits: csis.org

They have already started work on their 2nd Indigenous carrier named Type-002. News reports suggests that it would have combined EMALS and Steam catapults to launch the aircrafts. It’s displacement is speculated to be over 80,000tonnes. As for their naval needs a minimum of 3 aircraft carrier fleets are proposed and works are on track.

This is bad news for the Indian side. With IAC-2 still in drawing boards, it would be some time after it would be back on track. Until then Vikramadithya is the only option available for us to bolster our naval supremacy in the region. With Pakistan lacking the necessary finance and logistical support to operate a carrier, India definitely has the upper hand in naval supremacy in the region but we need those floating behemoths to safe keep Indian interests in the South China Sea. ONGC is conducting explorations in the are and Vietnam is already receiving flak for reaching out to India for exploring in the region.

Western Fleet escorting INS Vikramadithya, INS Viraat can be seen alongside- India Navy pic

So adding them all up, India needs at least 3 carriers operating at a time to effectively gain supremacy in the region and to bolster our stand as a Blue Water navy. However, in order to support such a massive fleet, sufficient logistical developments must be made, like inducting more supply ships and seeking advanced techs like nuclear based reactors, EMALS etc. And Indian NAvy is actively seeking naval jets to replace its ageing Mig-29K. Rafale-M, the naval variant of Rafale seems the most probable customer. If it happens, then Indian Navy could change drastically carving a new place in the list of most powerful navies.