India launches first nuclear submarine and aircraft carrier

In this handout photograph released by the Ministry of Defence on July 26, 2009, the wife of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Gursharan Kaur , breaks a coconut on the hull of India's first nuclear-powered submarine INS Arihant .

INDIA - India's successively launching of its first nuclear submarine and aircraft carrier shows New Delhi's upgraded naval capability and its ambition to dominate the India Ocean, observers say.

The 37,500-ton aircraft carrier INS Vikrant will enter the water on Monday at Kochi shipyard in southern India, four years after its keel was laid. The Vikrant makes India the fifth country, after the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia and France, to design and build a carrier.

The launch came days after India announced on Saturday that its first nuclear submarine, INS Arihant is ready for sea trials, a step before it becomes fully operational.

Experts said that building an aircraft carrier battle group has always been India's military strategy, which has been carried out systematically through overseas purchases and domestic development.

"The new indigenous carrier will further strengthen India's naval power and also add some bargaining chips with the world's major military vendors such as Russia," said Wang Daguang, a researcher of military equipment based in Beijing.

Zhang Junshe, a senior researcher at the People's Liberation Army Naval Military Studies Research Institute, said the Indian navy will be more capable of patroling distant oceans when the carrier is in service.

"India's first self-made carrier, along with reinforced naval strength, will further disrupt the military balance in South Asia," Zhang said, adding that India is very likely to quicken its pace to steer eastward to the Pacific.

According to sources from the Indian navy, the launch of the Vikrant only marks the end of the first phase of construction. The carrier will be floated out of its dry dock then redocked to mount the propulsion system. Work will then begin on the deck to install its weapon systems.

Reports say the carrier is set for extensive trials in 2016 before being inducted into the navy by the end of 2018.

Once completed, the carrier, 260 meters long and 60 meters wide, will accommodate around 1,450 sailors and 30 aircraft, including helicopters.

"The deck is designed to enable aircraft such as the MiG-29 to operate from the carrier. It will deploy up to 20 fixed-wing aircraft, primarily the Mikoyan MiG-29K and the naval variant of indigenous Tejas Mark 2, besides carrying 10 Kamov Ka-31 helicopters," an Indian navy official said.

Song Xiaojun, a military commentator in Beijing, said the Vikrant uses technology from the 1980s and thus serves as an experiment for the Indian navy to set technical standards for future vessels.

Song said New Delhi has to strike a balance between dominating the Indian Ocean and domestic economic and social development; otherwise its maritime ambition may only remain an impractical dream.

Zhang also said that the development of Indian carriers is confronted with difficulties in funding and technology.

The 6,000-ton Arihant was first unveiled in 2009 as part of a project to build five submarines armed with nuclear-tipped missiles and torpedoes.

The Arihant is powered by an 85-megawatt nuclear reactor and can reach 44 km an hour, according to Indian defence officials. It will carry 95 sailors.

The Indian navy inducted a Russian-leased nuclear submarine into service in April 2012, joining China, France, the US, the UK and Russia in the club of countries with nuclear-powered vessels.