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And now a desi aircraft carrier!

India will soon build a Rs 17 billion air defence ship to replace the decommissioned aircraft carrier INS Vikrant. The design of the 24,000 tonne vessel is ready, Vice-Admiral Sushil Kumar, vice-chief of the navy, said in New Delhi on Saturday.

''Though it is a big decision, hopefully it will be made shortly as the government is well apprised of the navy's requirements and will provide the wherewithal for a second aircraft carrier,'' Vice-Admiral Kumar said.

Orders had also been placed for the indigenous construction of two HDW type-1500 submarines with the Bombay-based Mazagon docks and an indigenously-constructed guided missile destroyer INS Delhi was slated for commissioning in September.

Prime Minister I K Gujral will soon commission INS Delhi, the 75th warship to be designed and constructed indigenously.

Vice-Admiral Kumar said other indigenously-constructed ships awaiting commissioning later this year are the missile corvette Kora, the training ship Tarangini, the missile frigate Brahmaputra, and a tanker Aditya. INS Delhi's sister ship Mysore is slated for commissioning next year.

The vice-chief admitted that though the number of new ships to be commissioned into the navy in the years ahead may not match those ships which are to be decommissioned, the navy's fighting edge would be maintained as the new arrivals would be sophisticated and state-of-the-art warships.

Vice-Admiral Kumar did not rule out the possibility of an outright purchase of an aircraft carrier till the locally-made vessel was ready. An aircraft carrier takes about ten years to build.

Asked whether the navy would buy the Admiral Gorshkov, a 35,000 tonne Kiev class Russian aircraft carrier, he said, ''Apart from the Gorshkov option, there are offers from France and the UK. However, our first and fundamental priority is to build our own aircraft carrier and we can do it.''

The vice-chief revealed that while some 54 ships are slated for retirement, 25 to 30 new warships will be inducted into service. ''The new ships will have a significantly enhanced combat capacity,'' he said.

The aircraft carrier, he said, had been designed to carry fighter planes, anti-submarine helicopters, and take care of a surface missile attack.

While initially it will be able to carry Sea Harriers, which is already in service, a provision had already been made at the design stage for the naval version of the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft when it is ready.


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