The engines on board the first Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC) being constructed at Kochi have been fired up and the Navy is starting on the next step of basin trials, with expectations that the warship would be ready for operations by 2022.
The long-delayed project, which was to be completed by 2018, is now back on track, with senior officers saying that the 37,500-tonne aircraft carrier will initially operate MiG 29K fighters and could also feature indigenous combat aircraft.
The carrier, the largest ever warship to be constructed in an Indian yard, is now in its final phase of construction and the Navy could consider operating a limited number of the maritime version of the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) once it gets fit for service, said people aware of the matter.
However, an indigenous fighter jet that would meet technical requirements of the Navy is unlikely to be ready for operational duty before 2026, which could put a strain on the fleet of MiG 29K fighter jets that are currently used for the INS Vikramaditya, India’s only aircraft carrier.
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A key requirement of the Navy is a double engine jet to ensure safety of the crew at sea.
“We have started the engine and hope to get the ship by 2021. It will take a year after that to get it operational.
We plan to start with the MiG 29K fighter jets,” a senior official told ET on condition of anonymity.
With the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) promising a technically compliant fighter jet by 2026, the Navy would be open to using it for the second indigenous aircraft carrier that it plans to build. Though funds have not been cleared by the defence ministry, the Navy is hopeful of a speedy approval for its plan to construct a larger aircraft carrier at the earliest.
The people cited earlier also said that the LCA Navy being developed could head for deck trials on the INS Vikramaditya soon, after it clears a series of test flights at the Shore Based Testing Facility (SBTF) in Goa. The fighter jet has undergone night trials as well as a launch with four air-to-air missiles on board in recent days.
The 37,500-tonne Short Take off but Assisted Recovery (STOBAR) Carrier – named the Vikrant – has been in the works since it was sanctioned in 2003.