The INS Vishal will follow her sister, the INS Vikrant, into Indian Navy service in the next decade and sport a higher displacement and flat-top flightdeck.
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The INS Vishal ("Immense") is the second of two new indigenous Indian Navy carrier designs currently under construction (2012). The INS Vishal is following the INS Vikrant into service to which the latter is expected to be commissioned sometime after 2017 due to ongoing project delays. Prior to these two endeavors, the Indian Navy relied largely on existing foreign types of British or Soviet/Russian origin refitted for Indian Navy use and, as such, these new carrier developments will stand as a huge symbol of national pride. The INS Vishal project is headed by the Naval Design Bureau with the vessel requirements expected to be finalized by the end of 2012.
For years. the Indian Navy made use of two ex-British Royal Navy carriers under the local names of INS Vikrant (R11) and INS Viraat (R22) though these aging systems eventually passed their prime by the end of the 1980s and thought was given towards their formal retirement. A new indigenous initiative was announced in 1989 intended to stock the Indian Navy with a homegrown solution under the "Air Defence Ships" (ADS) project. Construction would consist of two 28,000 ton vessels centered on the launching and recovery of the British BAe Sea Harrier Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) strike aircraft. However, economic hardship struck the Indian nation and the project fell to naught.
In 1999, the economic troubles had subsided to which the indigenous carrier initiative was brought to light once more. By this time, the Sea Harrier stable had grown thin to under a dozen aircraft and a more flexible aircraft carrier solution was directed under the new "Indigenous Aircraft Carrier" initiative. The class would include the initial 40,000 ton INS Vikrant (not to be confused with the original R11) and her sister, the 65,000 ton INS Vishal. Both would be capable of launching the newer Mikoyan MiG-29K Fulcrum navy fighters and navalized helicopters as required. The Vikrant was assigned a STOBAR configuration (Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery) to which a "ski jump" ramp was affixed to the bow end of the ship for the required short-take off requirement. The Vishal, however, would be drastically different in scope and function, being of the CATOBAR configuration (Catapult-Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery) - in essence a "flat top" deck more in line with American Navy offerings. This particular configuration would now make it possible to launch heavier and dimensionally larger mission-minded fixed-wing aircraft such as Airborne Early Warning (AEW) types and give the Indian Navy a considerable edge in the South Asian-Pacific Theater - particularly against the likes of China and Pakistan.
Design plans were drawn up in 2001 to which funding was secured in 2003 and construction of the Vishal began in 2012 (continuing today). It has still yet to be decided whether Vishal will be powered by nuclear reactors or by conventional means. If the latter, she will feature 4 x General Electric LM2500+ series gas turbine engines delivering to two shafts. Top speed (estimated) will be 28 knots in ideal conditions with a range out to 7,500 nautical miles. Dimensions include a running length of 860 feet with a 200 foot beam and 28 foot draught. The crew complement is expected to be 1,400 officers, sailors, service personnel, airmen and mechanics.
The bread and butter of the Vishal carrier will be its air wing comprised of 29 fixed-wing aircraft and 10 rotary-wing helicopters. The primary mount is expected to be the Russian Mikoyan MiG-29K Fulcrum, the navalized form of the successful land-based lightweight fighter. These will be supplemented or replaced by the indigenous delta-winged HAL Tejas aircraft (navalized). However, the Indian Navy is also interested in stocking heavier aircraft such as the Sukhoi Su-33, Boeing F/A-18 Hornet or French Dassault Rafale (the Rafale in particular has just been selected by the Indian Air Force to replace its stock of outdated Mikoyan MiG-21 Fishbed fighters). The Grumman E-2 Hawkeye has been mentioned for the fixed-wing AEW role as has a modified AEW version of the Boeing V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor helicopter. Helicopter types expected include the Russian Kamov Ka-31 series (Airborne Early Warning (AEW)) or the British Westland Sea King (Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW)) - both navalized for operations at sea/over water.
The vessel will be defended by a network of 4 x 76mm Otobreda guns, surface-to-air missile launchers and a Close-In Weapon System (CIWS) such as the 20mm American "Phalanx". A selex RAN-40L L-band early warning radar (EWR) will be part of the extensive and advanced sensor and processing system.
At this writing (2012), the arrival of the INS Vishal is still some time away as the Indian Navy commits to other higher profile requirements. The launch date for the vessel is tentatively scheduled for sometime in 2017 with sea trials to be undertaken in 2020 and formal commissioning in 2022. Sources indicate that the commissioning year is closer to 2025 due to the ambitious nature of the program and much thought given to finding local solutions without foreign assistance. This will push existing carriers such as the INS Viraat into service beyond 2014. The INS Vikramaditya - a converted ex-Soviet/Russian Kiev-class carrier - is scheduled to be commissioned at the end of 2012 as a more viable, modernized solution for the Indian Navy until the arrival of the INS Vikrant and INS Vishal.