Even as the engineers and ship designers of Cochin Shipyard Ltd are busy giving finishing touches to Vikrant, the first indigenously built aircraft carrier for the Indian Navy, possibilities have brightened for the construction of another exciting vessel to make the country’s seas safe from any kind of aggression. The next ship to be built in the country for the Indian Navy in all likelihood would be a nuclear energy-powered-aircraft carrier having ten-fold or more endurance power than the diesel-powered Vikrant.
“Yes, we have the capability and technical expertise to build nuclear powered aircraft carriers and war ships of global standards. When the Government asks us to build such ships we will do it,” Dr Anil Kakodkar, the then chairman of Atomic Energy Commission had told at Kalpakkam on August 2, 2009 while unveiling “Arihant”, Indian Navy’s indigenously built nuclear powered submarine .
Arihant which is protecting the country’s seas is powered by a 50 MW Light Water Reactor which helps it to remain underneath the sea for months altogether unlike conventional submarines which have to resurface regularly for fuelling. The reactor incorporated in Arihant was built at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre’s Kalpakkam division.
“India has the capability and expertise to build nuclear powered aircraft carrier. It is for the country’s top bosses to decide when to launch the mission,” a Bhabha Atomic Research Centre scientist with specialisation in nuclear chemistry told The Pioneer.
It may be worthwhile to remember what Sureesh Mehta, the then Navy Chief told the media during his farewell visit to Chennai. “We need a couple of aircraft carriers but the decision has to be taken at the highest level.” The US aircraft carrier Nimitz (powered by nuclear energy) had called on Chennai in July 2007 which had raised a lot of heat and dust among the anti-nuclear lobbyists in the metropolis.
Capt Hariharan Balakrishnan, veteran navigator of Indian Navy, said though the Vikrant saga was an enthralling development, he preferred Gas powered air craft carriers for the Indian Navy as it has the power to accelerate and decelerate the speed in which the carrier sails. “Diesel powered aircraft carriers take hours to get started and set sail while Gas powered Turbines can make it happen in a matter of minutes,” said Capt Balakrishnan, a 1971 war hero.
Though Vikrant is set to join the Indian Navy by 2022, the other aircraft carrier Vikramaditya is nearing its age of “superannuation”. Vikramaditya was built in 1987 and was decommissioned by its previous owners (the USSR) in 1996. “Unlike our first aircraft carrier Vikrant, we may not be able to give extension of service to Vikramaditya because of inherent issues,” said Capt Balakrishnan. Hence time has come for thinking about another aircraft carrier for the Indian Navy.
While engineers, officers and sailors who took part in the first sea trial of Vikrant recount their five day experience in the high seas, there is one person who is really thrilled about the vessel’s first day out. Capt Bhaskar Kunji, senior pilot of Cochin Port Trust was in command of Vikrant from its cruise from the Shipyard to outer sea ( a distance of 18 km) through the ship channel and its return trip. Four tugs pulled Vikrant as per the directions of Capt Kunji in the ship’s to and fro journeys through the channels, one of the most complex parts of the sailing.