Keel of 40,000-tonne carrier was laid in 2009

Over a year after its half-hearted launch, the maiden indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC) of the Navy will be re-docked at Cochin Shipyard by the end of January for resumption of work.

Once back at the building bay for completion of work in the first phase, the carrier — currently weighing about 17,500 tonnes — will have its propulsion, shafting, generation and other engineering equipment fitted over the next five to six months before it gets floated out again.

Quite a bit of structural work, probably up to the flight deck, which would give the vessel some shape, will also happen during this phase of construction.

Some hurdles

Time and cost overruns have marred the construction of the 40,000-tonne aircraft carrier, whose keel was laid in early 2009.

After a collaborative effort by the Defence Metallurgical Research Laboratory (DMRL) and the Steel Authority of India (SAIL) resulted in the production of carrier-grade steel within the country, the project hit another roadblock when reduction gearboxes made by the Gujarat-based Elecon Engineering Company Limited fell short of requirements.

“Further construction of the carrier wasn’t possible without the huge gearboxes going in. The systems have now passed muster,” said a Navy source.

The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) had earlier sanctioned Rs.3,200 crore for building the country’s first indigenous fleet air defence platform. For the first phase of construction Rs.1,160 crore was the estimated cost. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is learnt to have approached the CCS with an appeal for additional funds to meet the cost overrun.

Bad news from Russia

The Navy’s highly ambitious plan of operating three carrier battle groups (CBG) in the long-term, which would ensure availability of two CBGs at any given point, suffered a serious jolt as the delay in the construction of the indigenous carrier was followed by ominous news from Russia of a boiler accident aboard INS Vikramaditya, formerly Admiral Gorshkov, which India bought from Russia following protracted negotiations.

The boiler malfunction has deferred the induction of the Vikramaditya by a year, while, the indigenous carrier’s entry into active service will at best happen in 2018 — nearly five years later than originally planned.

As the first IAC, to be named INS Vikrant on completion, undergoes birth pangs at the Cochin Shipyard, a second carrier, presumably a bigger one weighing almost 60,000 tonnes, is on the drawing board at the Directorate of Naval Design in New Delhi.

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