Originally a ship of the British Royal Navy that never saw operational deployment, HMS Hercules was retrofitted in the late 1950s by Harland & Wolf Limited, with major modifications, and was eventually handed over to the Indian Navy as INS Vikrant (Vikrant stands for “courageous” in Sanskrit) at Belfast in 1961. The commissioning was presided over by Vijay Lakshmi Pandit, the then Indian High Commissioner to the UK. Captain (later Rear Admiral) Pritam Singh Mahindroo was the commanding officer of the newly inducted ship. Since its commissioning in the early years of the 1960s, Vikrant metamorphosed into a visible symbol of India’s maritime asset post-Independence. As it is now—a symbol of resurrection of a nation that has gradually started to make its presence felt—in the 21st century. And the saga of that resurrection is being played out in the deep “seas” that surround India from three sides.

The saga of INS Vikrant, India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier, is in more ways than one synonymous with the progression of India’s rising maritime capabilities. The induction of this “Floating Town” is also one of the firmest steps in so far as realising the dream of Atmanirbhar Bharatis concerned. As this epitome of engineering marvel gets commissioned into the Indian Navy on the 15August2022, it will be a moment of both pride and emotion for a country whose demise was once “ostensibly” predicted by the likes of Winston Churcill and Richard Nixon. And the fact that the country is witnessing this historic induction on the 75th year of its political independence, makes the moment even more unforgettable. Before delving further into some specific details and thus, addressing the larger sub-text of the topic of “Civil-Military” synergy, it’s worth glancing over a brief history of this military machine that carries a connotation for a country’s overall diplomatic policy.



  • Aircraft carriers didn’t play any significant role in World War I, but were central to several aerial missions during World War II. Japan, for example, launched the assault on Pearl Harbor from its aircraft carriers in 1941.
  • During the Indo-Pak conflict in 1971, the subcontinent witnessed the deployment of the previous incarnation of the just commissioned indigenous aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant by the Indian Navy from its position in the Andaman Islands against Pakistan. The strikes carried out by the jets flying off the aircraft carrier at the enemy’s installations at Chittagong, and the subsequent decimation of the Karachi port by missile boats of the Indian Navy, enabled by a naval blockade enforced by the aircraft carrier, is a stuff of legends that still continues to evoke nostalgia and patriotic fervour among the Indian security establishment and the public as well.
  • During the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, American aircraft carriers like the USS Abraham Lincoln and USS Theodore Roosevelt served as the principal base for the exercise of American air power. Even without the ability to deploy a large number of jets in the airbases of the Middle East, the US was able to execute effective air strikes from carrier-based squadrons. Recently, American aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, was used for accomplishing the operation to neutralize Osama Bin Laden.



Amidst heightened media coverage and hullabaloo, the nearly 40,000-tonne INS Vikrant had sneaked out for its maiden sea trial last year. Much like today when the aircraft carrier is being commissioned, it was a big event then, as she was the biggest warship ever built in India. Since then, the journey of this mammoth has been keenly followed by innumerable enthusiasts, both at home and abroad. Cherry on the cake is the fact that over 70% content of the carrier has been domestically sourced. Shedding further light on it, the Ministry of Defence has stated that majority of the equipment used in the aircraft carrier—like nearly 2,600km of electrical cables, almost 25,000 tonnes of steel etc.—had been obtained indigenously. Other equipment that have been procured locally include anchor capstans, air conditioning plants, systems of combat network and rigid hull boats, among others.

However, as impressive and laudatory this feat is, there lurks certain issues beneath the surface much like the expanding naval presence of China in the IOR (Indian Ocean Region). INS Vikrant—from the first approval by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) in 2002 to its commissioning in 2022—has taken nearly 20 years to see the light of the day. Such inordinate delays which are characteristic of India’s military acquisition processes does not augur well in the rapidly changing geo-political and geo-strategic milieu of the day. Especially if we take cognizance of China’s surveillance posts on the coasts of India’s neighbours like Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Myanmar, with the latest activity being the construction of a port at a place called “Kyaukpyu” in Western Myanmar, a lot of our euphoric celebrations ought to be tempered with a certain degree of reality check.



Today, an element that is increasingly getting palpable and palatable is that India is starting to leverage its growing economic and military footprint in the advancement of its foreign policy. The traditionalist and conformist viewpoint of relegating the expertise and experience of the armed forces in areas where their domain knowledge could prove to be vital, is finally seeing a welcome reversal. To put into perspective, India recently delivered a “Kilo-class” submarine to Myanmar, a country whose stability or rather the absence of it has a bearing on India’s own security. It also needs reiteration that the delivery of that submarine happened just on the heels of the meeting between the military leadership of Myanmar and the Indian Foreign Secretary, who was accompanied by the then Chief of Army Staff, General M.M. Naravane.

Similarly, in the same context, the operational liberty given to the Army to respond to Pakistan’s transgressions at will demonstrated by the surgical strikes and the “Balakot” air strikes can be legitimately said to be securing our political and advancing our diplomatic objectives. The resolute response to China at Galwan valley, Ladakh only reinforces this point. In this setting, the adeptness that has been evident in diplomacy under the Modi government should and does elicit a fair amount of recognition.



For far too long, the Indian military has been relegated to the back benches while diplomacy was the sole preserve of the Foreign Office under the civilian government. As the profile and attributes of international relations undergoseveral alterations in the 21st century, it’s imperative that India brings her military onto the negotiating table of global and regional diplomacy. Because this will allow India to canvass and exercise her own power profile effectively. At the time when the world’s two largest economies, the USand China are embroiled in a confrontational state near the Taiwan Strait, the commissioning of INS Vikrant could not have been timelier.


Manish Barma is a doctoral candidate at the Centre for European Studies, School of International Studies, JNU.