Tag Archives: INS Vikrant (R11)

After 60 years you’re still the most beautiful ship in the world

As we covered in a past Warship Wednesday on the Italian Navy’s historic nave scuola (training ship) Amerigo Vespucci (A5312), according to legend, while sailing in the Med in the 1960s, the 80,000-ton Forrestal-class supercarrier USS Independence, on a deployment with the Sixth Fleet duty in support of President John F. Kennedy’s firm stand on the newly-established Berlin Wall, came across a strange tall ship at sea.

The carrier flashed the vessel, Vespucci, with the light signal asking, “Who are you?” The answer, “Training ship Amerigo Vespucci, Italian Navy,” came back. Independence was said to have replied, “You are the most beautiful ship in the world.”

AMERIGO VESPUCCI Italian Training Ship, Sails past USS INDEPENDENCE (CVA-62) in the Mediterranean, 12 July 1962. The Navy later used this image on recruiting posters and advertising in the 1960s and 70s. USN 1061621

Well, in a salute to that exchange, the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) transited the Adriatic Sea alongside Vespucci on 1 September to commemorate the (just passed) 60th anniversary of the 1962 meeting between Indy and Italy’s senior national vessel.

As related by the Marina Militare, the signal from the big American flat top remained very similar: “Amerigo Vespucci, after 60 years you’re still the most beautiful ship in the world”

The Navy also marked the Bush’s 25 August passage through the Strait of Gibraltar with a nice time-lapse video. 

Of note, the GHWBCSG is comprised of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 7, Destroyer Squadron 26, and the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf (CG 55).

“The GHWBCSG is on a scheduled deployment in the U.S. Naval Forces Europe area of operations, employed by U.S. Sixth Fleet to defend U.S., allied and partner interests.” 

Speaking of carrier news…

In case you missed it, the Indian Navy’s third aircraft carrier– after the Kiev-class INS Vikramaditya (ex-Admiral Gorshkov) and Centaur-class INS Viraat (ex-HMS Hermes)– and first to be indigenously built, the brand new INS Vikrant (R11), was commissioned last week on 2 September after a 23-year planning and construction period.

The new $3 billion (which is a bargain compared to a $13 billion Ford-class CVN) carrier runs 860 feet overall and hits the scales with a 45,000-ton displacement, making her roughly the size of an old Essex-class fleet carrier of WWII or a current LHA/LHD but sans landing equipment. Using a COGAG suite of four LM2500 gas turbines– the same as an Arleigh Burke— she can make 30 knots. 

She actually compares well to the new $7.4 billion 65,000-ton British Queen Elizabeth class carriers, although it should be pointed out that the QEs operate F-35s (if they ever get enough of them). 

The Indian carrier’s armament is Italian/Israeli/Russian, electronics are from all over Europe, and her air group (for now) will be 30-ish STOBAR ski-jumped MiG-29Ks and a few Kamov Ka-31 ASW helicopters. However, this is set to change as the Indians are receiving MH-60Rs from the U.S. and it is between Dassault Rafale-M and the F-18E/F (with odds going towards the cheaper French option). 
 
Boeing recently completed ski jump tests with a Super Hornet loaded with two 500lb laser-guided bombs, AIM9Xs, and AIM-120s.
 

Rafale-ly speaking…

The Hellenic Air Force will begin operating its new (to them) French-made Dassault Rafale fighters after January 19 when a half-dozen aircraft are expected to arrive home at their Tanágra Air Force Base. Two dual-seat Rafales will be joined by four single-seat Rafales for the ferry flight home this week. Ultimately 18 Rafales, at a cost of $2.35B (US), will augment advanced F-16C/D Blk52s, as well as older Mirage 2000-5 models, and fill the gap left with the looming retirement of the country’s last 33 elderly F-4E Phantoms.

The first Rafale of the Hellenic Air Force (HAF) was formally delivered last July. This is one of the 12 refurbished ex-French Air Force Rafale B models configured to the latest F3R standard, that will be delivered to the HAF along with six newbuild fighters by 2023. (Photo: Dassault Aviation/C Cosmao)

The Greeks really like Dassault, having a nearly 50-year relationship with the company that includes ordering 40 Mirage F1s in 1974, then 40 Mirage 2000s in 1985, and finally 15 Mirage 2000-5s in the year 2000.

More Rafales on more carriers?

Speaking of Rafales, the Indian Navy is testing the Rafale M (carrier variant F3-R) at their ashore jump ramp facility in Goa with an eye to buying at least two dozen of the little fighters for use from the country’s new STOBAR indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC), INS Vikrant, set to commission later this year.

Keep in mind that the Indian Navy has had 60 years of continuous fixed-wing carrier operations under their belt, including combat use. 

Rafael M calendar illustration

Odds are, as many as 100 Rafale Ms could be bought if the price is right, with the French birds replacing cranky Russian-made MiG-29K fighters already in use on India’s equally cranky 45,000-ton Gorshkov-class flattop, INS Vikramaditya, and providing squadrons for the new Vikrant and planned follow-on INS Vishal, the latter ship expected in the 2030s. Each of the new carriers is to be capable of holding 36 fixed-wing fighters in addition to ASW helicopters and liaison aircraft.

The Indian Navy has 45 MiG-29KUB carrier-based multirole fighters and was looking to acquire 57 more, with the possibility of building them locally, but that is increasingly unlikely. Plan A right now seems to be fielding variants of the F/A-18E or the French Rafale M instead.

The Indians are also looking at the larger F-18E/F Super Hornet, but, as the IAF already ordered 36 Rafale B/Cs and are standing them up in two operational squadrons this year, don’t hold your breath. However, as the Indians are buying 22 MH-60Rs from Sikorsky, with the blessing of the USN, for ASW use, anything is possible.

45,000 tons of Courageous

The Indian Navy, which officially dates back to the 1947 split with the British Empire and carries a curious mix of traditions from the Royal Navy and doctrine from the Soviets/Russians, saw an important milestone last week when INS Vikrant (R11), whose name roughly translates to “Courageous” took to the sea for builder’s trials, celebrating 60 continuous years of carrier operations.

The country’s first indigenous aircraft carrier and the largest warship to be built in the country, Vikrant is roughly the size of an American LHA but importantly uses a STOBAR aircraft launching system with a ski-jump and angled flight deck and can operate a mix of 40 MiG-29Ks and ASW helicopters.

Nice to see the old Sea King still around

She also has a serious self-defense armament (another ode to Russian carrier ops) including 64 Barak 8 missiles, four OTO 76mm guns, and four Russian AK-630 CIWS mounts. Powered by a quartet of GE LM2500 turbines, which are standard on just about every American destroyer and cruiser, she has an eclectic mix of Italian and Israeli electronics.

60 Years of Indian Carriers

India has been in the carrier game since 1961, when the original INS Vikrant, formerly the British light carrier HMS Hercules, was commissioned. Vikrant was later augmented in 1987 by the Centaur-class carrier INS Viraat (ex-HMS Hermes), which served for 30 years.

Vikrant in 1984 after many years of hard service. You can note the Sea Harriers, Sea King helicopters, Sea Hawks, and Alize aircraft on deck

Doing the math, India was a single-carrier operator for 26 years, then operated two flattops side-by-side for a decade before downsizing between 1997 and 2012. With the commissioning of the completely rebuilt INS Vikramaditya (ex- Russian carrier Baku/Admiral Gorshkov), the country then again operated a two-carrier fleet for five years. 

INS Viraat and INS Vikramaditya in 2013. At the time, India had arguably the second-highest amount of operational naval tonnage in the world behind the U.S.

Since 2017, when Hermes/Viraat was finally retired, they have been back down to a single carrier but that will change once Vikrant officially joins the fleet next year.

Also, the “big deck” Vikramaditya enabled the Indians to retire their ancient early model Sea Harriers and go with MiG-29 carrier variants, of which they have some 45 in operation. Sure, they are not as capable of a carrier-based fighter as the F-18E or F-35B, but they are still a step up from Harriers.

Plus, keep in mind that the very professional Indians have probably the best track record in using MiGs in combat in the world. Just ask Pakistan. 

The Indian Navy has 45 MiG-29KUB carrier-based multirole fighters and is looking to acquire 57 more, with the possibility of building them locally. There is also talk of fielding variants of the F/A18E or the French Rafale instead.