The following article by VADM Premvir Das can be in the Naval disucssion thread also but it primarily relates to the INS Vikrant.
In the league of extraordinary navies
With the indigenously-designed and built Vikrant and Arihant, India enters an exclusive club
Premvir Das August 14, 2013 Last Updated at 21:44 IST
India had not been independent for even a decade when its last Viceroy and then First Sea Lord (Chief of the British Navy), Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, in one of his many exchanges with Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, mentioned that his Navy was decommissioning, read putting out of service, its aircraft carrier HMS Hercules and that it was available to us. He had always seen India taking on responsibilities in the Indian Ocean that the Royal Navy had been discharging for two centuries, recognising that those years could be drawing to a close.
At this time, following demobilisation after World War II, the fledgling Indian Navy had just a dozen-odd ocean-going ships, and acquiring a vessel as large and complex as an aircraft carrier and then maintaining and operating it, along with its complement of aircraft, would be a humungous task. The senior-most Indian officer in the Navy had just been promoted to Rear Admiral and the entire officer cadre numbered just over 1,500. It is credit to Nehru's vision that none of this daunted him; he simply sent a note to his defence minister asking that the suggestion merited serious consideration.
In the event, the Navy's proposal to acquire the ship was approved by the government in 1957 and, after a comprehensive refit and training of officers and men, INS Vikrant entered what was then Bombay in 1961 - Prime Minister Nehru was at Ballard Pier to receive the ship as it berthed alongside. In that one action, the Indian Navy transformed itself from a purely surface fleet to one that could project air power far away from its shores and the term "blue water navy" entered its dictionary. Capability to operate in the air while at sea was truly a watershed event in the growth of India's maritime power. Another aircraft carrier, INS Viraat (earlier HMS Hermes), joined the Navy in 1987 adding to this unique prowess not possessed by any other regional nation till today. But the induction of the Vikrant was in a class of its own.
Many important landmarks were crossed in the next 50 years. Submarines were inducted starting 1967, first from the erstwhile Soviet Union and later from Germany (and a couple assembled in India). Helicopters became an essential arm in all seagoing ships along with anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles even as guns turned into secondary armament. Continued indigenous construction of larger and more capable ships, all built to designs prepared by the Navy's designers, and constructed first at the Mazagon Docks in Mumbai and then at the Garden Reach Shipyard in Kolkata, became the norm even as Goa Shipyard looked at relatively lower profile warships.
Sadly, an even more complex project to build submarines in India, begun with great determination in the early 1990s, came to a halt due to political confrontation, costing us many years of inactivity and other penalties. But all things considered, the Navy's firm resolve to enhance its indigenous design and warship-building capabilities has continued apace, through hierarchies lasting more than five decades.
This brings me to INS Arihant, the name given to our first Indian-built nuclear submarine whose nuclear reactor went "critical" on August 10. The term implies operationalisation of the main propulsion plant, a very important phase in putting the vessel to sea. The desire to build its own nuclear-powered submarine did not take shape in the last 20 years or even 30. Its origins go back more than four decades when the Navy set up a two-man team in the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre under the innocuous name Project 932. This work saw many ups and downs, which do not merit recalling here, but in 1980 the project nearly ran aground.
When it was revived in the mid-1980s under the name Project ATV, its dimension had transformed. We were no longer in the business of designing a small nuclear reactor that could be put in hull as tiny and constrained as that of a submarine but to actually build the vessel itself and everything that went into it, weapons and sensors included. The project has involved a great deal of work both in our public and private sector industries and, of course, in the Department of Atomic Energy, along with assistance from Russian technicians, but all the sweat and tears have been worth the while. It will be a momentous days for all of them when Arihant first sails out of Visakhapatnam harbour to seek her legitimate habitat - the ocean. When fully operational, it will become the third, and most important, leg of our nuclear weapon capability
And back to INS Vikrant. The ship that sailed into Bombay in 1961 was decommissioned in 1997 and a replacement ordered to be built at the Cochin Shipyard in Kochi, which alone had the infrastructure to build a ship of this size. The initial design was again prepared by the Navy's designers based on its own qualitative requirements and refined and expanded over several years with assistance in areas where sufficient expertise was not available in the country. Let us not forget that this ship will displace nearly 40,000 tonne and have a length that makes even the Melbourne Cricket Ground - the largest cricket ground in the world - look small in comparison. The technical complexities of designing and putting in place its several main and auxiliary machineries and weapons and sensors, leave aside its complement of aircraft of several types, cannot even be imagined by a layman. It is this new Vikrant that has been launched on August 12. If the first Vikrant brought India into the world of truly blue water navies, the new Vikrant, designed and built by Indians in India, will put us in the league of just five countries - and China is not one of them - that alone, till now, can design, build and operate ships of this class.
These three watershed events in the life of a Navy, in just 66 years - two of them within two days - should be a matter of great pride for our countrymen. That this has come about in the face of innumerable constraints, many looking insurmountable at times, is even more satisfying. There is reason to believe that both projects, including those which must surely follow, will continue to move along and give to the nation, in times to come, the capabilities at sea that it will need. At this moment of deserved pride, we must also salute the work of those pioneers who thought such wild dreams and played their parts in making them come to fruition.
The author retired as Commander-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command. He has also served as member of the National Security Advisory Board
And let us offer a silent tribute to the 18 who were lost in INS Sindurakshak fire.