India on Monday began an eight-year project to build an aircraft carrier in its most ambitious military programme to date, officials said.
Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee launched the construction of the 37,500-tonne carrier at the Cochin Shipyard in Kerala, a naval spokesman said.
The carrier will carry 30 British- and Russian-made jet fighters as well as locally-designed light combat aircraft which took India more than 22 years to develop.
Federal Shipping Minister T R Balu said the ship-building yard would complete the project and hand over the carrier to the 137-ship Indian navy by 2012.
"The project is strategically important for our defence and so we will complete it within the target period," Balu said.
The 252 metre-long (831 feet) carrier, which will be powered by four gas turbines and have an range of 7,500 nautical miles, will have a top speed of 28 knots and will carry 160 officers and 1,400 sailors.
It will have two 200 metre-long runways and a landing deck for helicopters.
Several other countries, including China, the United States, France, Russia, Britain, Spain and Italy, have aircraft carriers.
The carrier was designed by the Indian navy but Italian firm Fincantieri will help Cochin Shipyard integrate the main propulsion system and perform other specialised tasks.
The Indian Navy had two aircraft carriers but only the INS Viraat is in operation as the INS Vikrant was decommissioned in January 1997.
Last year India signed a 1.5 billion dollar deal with Russia for a 40,000 tonne aircraft carrier, Admiral Gorshkov, which is slated to join the Indian navy in 2008 after a refit.
Besides the aircraft carrier, India is building 19 other ships, including frigates and corvettes. Last month it unveiled plans to buy patrol boats.