India launched its first indigenously-built aircraft carrier on Monday, a landmark moment in the $5 billion or 500 crores project that seeks to project the country's power and check the rising influence of China. (Launch in pics
The INS Vikrant comes into full service in 2018, and makes India the fifth nation to have designed and built its own aircraft carrier, pushing ahead of China to join an elite club that includes Britain, France, Russia and the United States.
"It's a remarkable milestone," Defence Minister A.K. Antony said as he stood in front of the giant grey hull of the ship at a ceremony in the southern city of Kochi. "It marks just a first step in a long journey but at the same time an important one."
The ship, which will be fitted with weaponry and machinery and then tested over the next four years, has a flight deck more than twice the size of a football field.
Its power unit can light up the entire city of Kochi, where it's being built. The indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), MiG-29K combat jets and a range of helicopters will be deployed on the carrier.
The INS Vikrant, which means "courageous" or "bold" in Hindi, is a 40,000-tonne vessel which will carry Russian-built MiG-29 fighter jets and other light aircraft.
India already has one aircraft carrier in operation - a 60-year-old British vessel acquired by India in 1987 and renamed INS Viraat - but it will be phased out in the coming years.
Russia is also set to hand over a third aircraft carrier - INS Vikramaditya - later this year after a bitter row over the refurbished Soviet-era warship caused by rising costs and delays.
On Saturday, India announced its first indigenously-built nuclear submarine was ready for sea trials, a key step before it becomes fully operational. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called it a "giant stride" for the nation.