India next month will begin building an indigenously designed aircraft carrier that will tap Italian expertise and take eight years to complete, a senior naval officer announced March 22.
The carrier is designed to operate a mix of Russian MiG-29K and Kamov 31 anti-submarine helicopters and the naval variant of India’s light combat aircraft, said Vice Admiral Yashwant Prasad, the vice chief of naval staff.
Construction of the 37,500-ton ship which would carry a maximum of 30 fighter aircraft will start April 11 at Cochin Shipyard in the southern state of Kerala. It will be ready for delivery in 2012, Prasad told reporters in New Delhi.
The 252-meter-long (831 feet) carrier will have a top speed of 28 knots and will carry 160 officers and 1,400 sailors, he added.
It will have two runways with 200-meter-long ski jumps and a landing deck.
The ship will be powered by four gas turbines and will have an endurance of 7,500 nautical miles, making it capable of voyages of more than 45 days at a stretch.
Only five other countries operate aircraft carriers; China, the United States, France, Russia and Britain.
The Indian government sanctioned 32 billion rupees ($700 million) in 2003 for the project, Prasad said.
The vessel was designed by the Indian navy but the technical assistance of Italian firm Fincantieri will be used during construction, Prasad said.
Fincantieri will help Cochin Shipyard integrate the main propulsion system and other specialized tasks, a naval officer said.
The construction of the ship will give the Indian navy the punch it needs to turn it into a “blue water navy,” he added.
The Indian Navy has had two aircraft carriers but it currently operates only the INS Viraat after the INS Vikrant was decommissioned in January 1997.
Last year India signed a 1.5-billion-dollar deal with Russia for a 40,000-ton aircraft carrier, Admiral Gorshkov, which is slated to join the Indian navy in 2008 after a refit.
Prasad said the construction of the Indian ship had been slowed by the non-availability of steel with the specifications required to build an aircraft carrier.
“The project was delayed because there was a problem of procuring the steel from Russia,” he said.
“But now, we have finally got the steel of higher specifications from Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL). The steel from SAIL is perhaps of better specifications than Russian steel,” he said.
Prasad said the navy had yet to identify the weapons systems to be deployed on the carrier.
“The carrier will be ready in 2012. If we identify the systems now, it will become obsolete by the time the ship is ready,” a naval official said.
Besides the aircraft carrier, India is also building 19 vessels including frigates and corvettes, Prasad said.