August 15, 2012: India announced that its first locally designed and built aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, will be at least three years late. This was not unexpected. The latest delay was caused, in large part, because the Indian firm hired to build a complex portion of the engine, the gearbox, proved incapable of the task and a foreign company had to be brought in.
There have been many other problems. While construction began three years ago, it was soon delayed because Russia was late in supplying the high-grade steel needed for the hull. Last December 30, the Vikrant was floated out its dry dock. Vikrant was not supposed to leave dry dock yet but the dock was needed for another project. Construction will go on, with pipes, conduits, and other fittings installed. Later this year Vikrant will return to another dry dock to have its engines and other major equipment installed, although some of that equipment will be late because of problems with suppliers.
Because of the increasing number of delays this 40,000 ton vessel won't be ready for sea trials until 2017 at the earliest. The INS Vikrant has a ski-jump deck, like the INS Vikramaditya (a rebuilt Russian carrier that should be ready by early next year), and is designed to carry 29 jet fighters and ten helicopters.
India's sole operational aircraft carrier, the 29,000 ton INS Viraat, emerged from 18 months in a shipyard (for maintenance and upgrades) two years ago. This work could have been avoided by the timely arrival (three years ago) of the INS Vikramaditya (the refurbished Russian carrier Gorshkov). If that had happened, the INS Viraat would have been retired in 2012, after 53 years' service (for Britain and India). But now the INS Viraat, with its engine and hull refurbished, and its electronics upgraded, will probably serve for another decade. Thus by 2017, India should have three large carriers in operation and some bitter memories of their experience with the Russians over the rebuilt Gorshkov. Meanwhile, the INS Viraat, late of the Royal Navy, will carry on until at least 2017, and possibly 2020.