India’s New Russian Carrier Finally Goes To Sea

 - June 15, 2012, 1:40 PM
The INS Vikramaditya, formerly a Russian cruiser, leaves Severodvinsk harbor on June 8 for sea trials. (Photo: Sevmash)

By one measure more than 32 years in the making, India’s new aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya, departed Severodvinsk harbor on June 8 and sailed into the White Sea for trials, including takeoffs and landings of Mikoyan MiG-29K/KUB fighters and Kamov Ka-27 helicopters. Although the INS Vikramaditya began sea trials a couple of weeks behind schedule, shipbuilder Sevmash says the vessel and its support program are on track for delivery as agreed by year-end.

The 45,300-tonne vessel is a “through-deck” aircraft carrier of the Stobar (short takeoff but arrested recovery) type with a crew of 1,924. Originally a heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser of Project 1143.4, the ship was laid down under the name of Baku on Dec. 26, 1978, at the Nikolaev Shipbuilding Plant on the Black Sea coast. After the breakup of the Soviet Union it was rechristened the Admiral Gorshkov and served until decommissioning in 1998. Then the Gorshkov was offered to India as an alternative to an Invincible-class “Harrier carrier” from the UK.

Moscow and New Delhi agreed terms in March 2004 and the cruiser went into dry dock in December 2005. The ship was relaunched in November 2008 as a Project 11430 aircraft carrier. Since then the cost of work has been renegotiated several times; the rebuilding contract value rose to $1.75 billion. With the inclusion of separate contracts for training, ground equipment and shore infrastructure installations, the grand total came to $2 billion.

Although the INS Vikramaditya was produced from a Soviet-era cruiser, Sevmash general manager Andrei Diachkov asserts that the warship “is as good as new. Never before has an aircraft carrier undergone such massive modernization. Given proper maintenance, it will stay in service for up to 40 years.

“In fact, the shipyard did not make much profit on this contract, as most of the contract cost went to the suppliers of equipment and systems,” Diachkov said. Sevmash placed more than 800 contracts for vendor items with 400 suppliers in Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Japan, Finland, France, Norway, Poland, Sweden and the UK. Ten Indian companies supplied communication systems, protective coating, telephone exchange, life rafts, pumps, and hygiene and galley equipment.

India operates 16 MiG-29K/KUBs delivered in 2010-2011, and has 29 more on order. None of these will be involved in the trials. Instead, operations this year will involve Russian-owned prototypes and rebuilt MiG-35s, after the latter type was eliminated from the Indian MMRCA tender. To support Navy operations, the Vikramaditya has been fitted with a 14-degree ski ramp and three arrestor cables. The ship’s hangar is 420 feet long, 82 feet wide and 23 feet high and can store up to 34 MiGs and Kamovs.