Quick, what countries have the second- and third-largest carrier forces in the world?
Number one, of course, is the United States with ten carriers and one on the way, even as it scraps as many as eight older ones (Forrestal, Saratoga, Ranger, Independence, Kittyhawk, Constellation, Enterprise, and John F. Kennedy).
The second-largest is . . . Japan, which has three carriers (actually called “helicopter destroyers”) in service and a fourth on the way. The third-largest carrier force belongs to India, with two in service and one on the way.
Surprised? Don’t be. India’s navy has long been one to reckon with, partially due its heritage under British rule. That Royal Navy DNA makes India a serious naval power, and India has managed to mesh technology from a variety of countries to create their navy.
INS Viraat is the former HMS Hermes, a veteran of the Falklands War. Viraat displaces about 24,000 tons and carries about two dozen aircraft. Viraat is slated to retire soon after the new Vikrant enters service. The Viraat is a V/STOL carrier, along the lines of those in service with Thailand, Spain, and Italy. Viraat is likely to stick around until 2020 — impressive, given that she was first commissioned in 1959 by the Royal Navy.
The other active carrier, INS Vikramaditya, is the former Russian carrier Admiral Gorshkov. When she entered service with the Soviet Navy as Baku, she was originally designed to operate Yak-38 Forgers and Ka-27 Helix helicopters. After the Cold War, Russia needed cash, and India took the chance to buy the Gorshkov. After a lengthy refit following her 2004 (which was a soap opera in and of itself), the Vikrmaditya entered service in 2013. Vikramaditya displaces 45,000 tons and operates three dozen aircraft.
The carrier on the way, INS Vikrant, is being built in India. Intended to displace about 40,000 tons, she can carry 40 aircraft and will enter service in 2018. She is the second carrier to carrythe name, the previous Vikrant being a British-built light carrier that served with India from 1961-1997. The first Vikrant was a museum from 2001 to 2012 before her deteriorating condition forced the Indian Navy to sell her for scrap.
The INS Viraat is the last British-built ship serving with the Indian Navy, and is one of the oldest aircraft carriers in service in the world.
India’s naval aircraft are quite diverse, as well. India operates British Sea Harriers (the Mk 51 version) from the Viraat, along with Sea King helicopters (an American design customized by the Brits) and Dhruv helicopters designed and built in India. The Vikramaditya operates Russian-designed Ka-28 and Ka-31 Helix helicopters, MiG-29K Fulcrums from Russia, and Indian-built Tejas aircraft, a mix that will also be seen on the new Vikrant when it starts trials later this year and enters service in 2018. From land, India’s maritime patrol inventory features not only the modern P-8, but Russian Il-38 “May” and Tu-142 “Bear F” aircraft as well.