India is set to begin a $700 million project to build an indigenously designed aircraft carrier with Italian expertise, a senior defence official said in New Delhi
Vice-Admiral Yashwant Prasad said on Tuesday that the "construction of the ship will give the Indian navy the punch it needs to turn it into a blue water navy".
Scheduled to be completed by 2012, the 37,500-tonne ship will be India's third aircraft carrier - making India the fourth country, after the US, Britain and France, capable of making its own heavy aircraft carriers.
The Indian navy has had two aircraft carriers, but it currently operates only the INS Viraat after the INS Vikrant was de-commissioned in January 1997.
Last year, India signed a $1.5 billion deal with Russia for a 40,000 tonne aircraft carrier, Admiral Gorshkov - slated to join the Indian navy in 2008 after a refit.
The latest carrier is designed to operate a mix of 30 fighter aircraft, including the Russian MiG-29K, Kamov 31 anti-submarine helicopters and the naval variant of India's light combat aircraft, Vice- Admiral Prasad said in New Delhi.
Only five other countries have
However, the navy has yet to identify the weapons systems to be deployed on the carrier. "The carrier will be ready in 2012. If we identify the systems now, it will become obsolete by the time the ship is ready," he said.
Construction of the ship will start on 11 April at Cochin Shipyard in the southern state of Kerala and will be ready for delivery in 2012, Prasad said.
Only five other countries operate aircraft carriers - China, the United States, France, Russia and Britain
The vessel, designed by the Indian navy, will be constructed with technical assistance from Italian firm Fincantieri.
Although the required funds were granted in 2003, the construction of the ship was delayed by the non-availability of steel with the specifications required to build an aircraft carrier, the official said.
"The project was delayed because there was a problem of procuring steel from Russia," he said.
"The steel from SAIL is perhaps of better specifications than Russian steel"
Indian Navy vice chief
"But now, we have finally got the steel of higher specifications from Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL). The steel from SAIL is perhaps of better specifications than Russian steel," he said.
Besides the aircraft carrier, India is also building 19 vessels including frigates and corvettes, Prasad said.