Defence Minister AK Antony, in a markedly different element from his native Kerala, reviews a Russian guard of honour
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 17th Nov 13
With snowflakes sprinkling the dignitaries gathered on Saturday at the Sevmash Shipyard in Severodvinsk, Russia, Defence Minister AK Antony commissioned the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya into the Indian Navy. The 44,500-tonne warship will now sail to its home base in Karwar, India, from where it will partner the smaller, 24,000-tonne INS Viraat, currently the navy’s flagship. Sixteen years after INS Vikrant was decommissioned, the navy will again boast of two aircraft carriers in its fleet.
“Aircraft carriers have been part of the Indian Navy’s force structure since our independence and have effectively served the country over the past five decades or so. The induction of ‘Vikramaditya’ with its integral MiG-29K fighters and Kamov-31 helicopters, not only reinforces this central policy, but also adds a new dimension to our navy’s operational capabilities,” said Mr Antony at the event.
Ending the acrimony over Russia’s five-year delay in delivering the Vikramaditya, and the three-fold cost increase from $947 million agreed in 2004 to $2.3 billion today, Mr Antony said the Vikramaditya “truly symbolizes the time-tested special and privileged strategic partnership between our two great nations.”
Navy chief, Admiral DK Joshi, said the Vikramaditya would provide the navy a two-carrier capability in the medium term, and bridge the period between when the obsolescent INS Viraat is decommissioned, and the indigenous INS Vikrant enters service. The Vikrant is being built at Cochin Shipyard, but will not be commissioned before 2015. Earlier, the navy had said the Viraat would remain in service beyond 2018.
In addition to Mr Antony, the navy chief and the defence secretary, Russia’s deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin and defence minister, Sergey Shoigu also attended the ceremony.
Sevmash shipyard has comprehensively rebuilt the Vikramaditya over the preceding decade. It was originally built in Ukraine in 1987 as the cruiser, Baku, which could carry a complement of Yak-38 vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft. Russia’s naval chief, Admiral Gorshkov, believed that the Baku should be a full-fledged aircraft carrier, not a “compromise carrier” that it was. In 1991, when the Soviet Union’s collapse placed Baku in Azerbaijan, the vessel was renamed Admiral Gorshkov. Eventually, a bankrupt Moscow mothballed the vessel in 1995.
In 2004, India signed a contract to repair and refurbish the Gorshkov, and convert it to a full-fledged aircraft carrier that could operate the MiG-29K fighter. Since this required a runway both for take-off and for a wire-arrested landing, the Gorshkov had to be converted from a VTOL to a short-take-off-but-arrested-recovery (STOBAR) carrier. This required a 2,500-tonne ski jump and arrestor gear to be fitted, as well as major modifications in 1,750 of the ship’s 2,500 compartments. New aircraft and ammunition lifts, engine boilers, diesel generators, water distilling and reverse osmosis plants, air-conditioning and sensors and weapons had to be fitted, a task that eventually took 115 months instead of the contract 52 months.
With eight steam boilers running on high speed diesel, the Gorshkov can work up a top speed of 29.5 knots (55 km per hour). Her onboard generators produce 18 megawatts of power, enough to run a small city. She is a two-acre chunk of sovereign Indian territory that can operate 13,000 km from India.
This floating air base can be parked 12 nautical miles (22 km) from another country’s coastline, i.e. just outside its territorial waters. The Vikramaditya has 30 aircraft on board, which includes a mix of MiG-29K fighters and helicopters like the Kamov-31 for airborne early warning (AEW), Kamov-28 for anti-submarine warfare (ASW), and Dhruv or Chetak utility helicopters. The versatile MiG-29K, with an operating range of 1,300 km (extendable to 3,500 km with in-flight refuelling), provides deadly reach to the Vikramaditya. The “aviation complex” is controlled by the Resistor-E radar complex, which provides air traffic control services and precisely guides incoming MiG-29Ks to within 30 metres of the flight deck.
The name “Vikramaditya” literally translates into “Strong as the Sun.” The aircraft carrier’s motto is Strike Far, Strike Sure.”