India’s Ex-Russian Aircraft Carrier Finally Nearing Sea Trials

 - December 9, 2011, 8:45 AM
After much delay, India’s new aircraft carrier is reported to be 90 percent complete at the Sevmash shipyard in Severodinsk, Russia. (Photo: Valdimir Karnozov)

The prototype MiG-29K (side number 311) was loaded by crane onto India’s new aircraft carrier in Severodvinsk last month. The Sevmash Dockyard said that work to convert the former Russian cruiser Gorshkov is 90 percent complete.

Renamed the INS Vikramaditya, the ship is now scheduled to commence sea trials in May next year, and be commissioned by December 4, which is India’s annual Navy Day. Meanwhile, the last five of the initial 16 MiG-29K/KUB production aircraft that India ordered for the new carrier are due for delivery this month. Russia donated the Gorshkov “as is” to the Indian Navy in March 2004, upon New Delhi’s promise to fund her refit and modernization. The ship was re-launched in November 2008 as a through-deck carrier with a 14-degree ski ramp and three arrestor wires.

The initial contract for the ship’s conversion amounted to $617 million (U.S.), excluding training and after-sales support. A long dispute between Moscow and New Delhi over escalating costs halted work for many months, before the parties agreed to a new total of $1.75 billion. With the inclusion of separate contracts on training, ground equipment and shore infrastructure installations, the grand total comes to $2 billion (U.S.). India is building a second ski-jump aircraft carrier at Cochin.

The MiG-35D demonstrator (side number 154) has been fitted with an arrestor hook and will take part in the sea trials of the Vikramaditya. It replaces two-seat MiG-29KUB side number 951, which crashed at Akhtubinsk earlier this year. Single-seat MiG-29K side number 941 will also fly in the trials, rather than the prototype aircraft now onboard. (It is one of two MiG-29Ks that flew trials on Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kutnetsov. Later, both aircraft served as demonstrators and testbeds in various MiG programs before being grounded earlier this year.)

India has ordered a second batch of 29 MiG-29Ks, worth a reported $1.5 billion.