India unveiled its first domestically produced aircraft carrier on Monday, just hours after turning on the reactor of the country’s first nuclear-powered submarine. The 850-foot, 37,500-ton INS Vikrant is built of local steel, the “crowning glory” of India’s navy, a vice admiral said.
The Vikrant makes India one of five countries in the world capable of constructing an aircraft carrier from domestic materials and design. China, which continues to use its one and only aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, for training and propaganda purposes, is not yet one of those countries. The Liaoning was built in Ukraine in the 1980s and stripped for parts after the Soviet Union collapsed; by 2011 China had refurbished the empty hulk and recommissioned it for training purposes. Additionally, there have been sporadic leaks of images of what appears to be China’s second aircraft carrier, a homemade project.
Chinese observers, the Times of India notes with some satisfaction, are already worried: “The launch of INS Vikrant has raised hackles in China, with Chinese defence experts saying the aircraft carrier would have great significance for India as it would allow the Indian Navy to wade into the Pacific Ocean—which Beijing considers as its backyard.”
“India’s first self-made carrier, along with reinforced naval strength, will further disrupt the military balance in South Asia,” a senior Chinese naval official said.
But the Vikrant does not mean India is taking the lead in the Indo-Pacific naval arms race. It won’t be commissioned into the navy until 2018, and it won’t even be available for trials for another three years at least. But it has made a statement: India doesn’t plan to miss out on the region-wide boom in naval forces—what a Chinese admiral has called the “century of the sea.”