China's declaration that its first-ever aircraft carrier will begin sea trials towards the year-end has caused tremors around the world. But even as it jostles for the same strategic space in the Indian Ocean region, India is not too unnerved by all the brouhaha.
For one, even if the carrier becomes ocean-worthy by 2012-2013, it will take China a few years to master the complex art of operating fighters from a moving airfield on the high seas and then converting the entire package into a potent offensive weapons platform.
India, of course, has been in the business of operating "flattops" for five decades now, commissioning as it did its first carrier INS Vikrant with its Sea Hawk jets way back in 1961. As of now, the Navy operates the 28,000-tonne INS Viraat, even though it's left with only 11 of its Sea Harrier jump-jets.
"Aircraft carriers, which can travel 600 nautical miles a day, are no doubt game-changers. But it takes a lot in terms of fleet doctrines and tactics, training and technology to operate them effectively," said a top Navy officer.
Interestingly, China has got its first carrier by refurbishing a rusting half-completed `Varyag' 67,500-tonne carrier, which was first built in the Soviet Union of 1980s and was then bought by China from Ukraine in 1998 on the pretext of running it as a floating casino.
For another, India has already launched preparations for the "integration" of MiG-29Ks, the first-ever naval supersonic fighters it's now inducting, with the 44,570-tonne INS Vikramaditya or the refitted Admiral Gorshkov it will get from Russia in early-2013.
Moreover, the 40,000-tonne indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC), being constructed at Cochin Shipyard, will finally be "launched in a few months" now after some delay to ensure it's ready by 2015 or so.
India aims to have two "carrier battle or strike groups" (CBGs), with their accompanying fighters, patrol aircraft, destroyers, submarines frigates and tankers, by 2015. Incidentally, the US has 11 CBGs to project power around the globe.
"Vikramaditya will give us serious maritime strike capabilities for the first time. With mid-air refuelling and double the combat radius of operations as well as BVR (beyond visual range) and guided anti-ship missiles, smart bombs and rockets, MiG-29Ks will provide a four-fold capability jump over Sea Harriers," said an officer.
Navy has already inducted 11 of the 45 MiG-29K fighters ordered from Russia for over $2 billion. India, of course, will now get Vikramaditya in early-2013 after agreeing to the revised refit cost of $2.33 billion after three years of bitter wrangling with Russia since the earlier agreement inked in January 2004 had earmarked only $974 million for it.
"Vikramaditya should begin sailing by the end of this year after steaming and basin trials. Extensive sea-trials will follow thereafter. Over 150 Indian officers and sailors are already in Russia for training. The next batch will go in January," he said.