The aircraft carrier will reach home in January end

Ten days after it was commissioned into the Indian Navy at the North Russian shipyard of Sevmash at Severodvinsk, INS Vikramaditya left the yard’s pier, setting course for its homeport at Karwar in Karnataka on Tuesday.

Commanded by Captain Suraj Berry, Vikramaditya is at the outer anchorage at the time of filing this report, completing customs clearance formalities and bunkering. Resuming its long voyage home possibly on Wednesday morning, the carrier will have a few days’ stop at the Northwest Russian port of Murmansk, some 215 nautical miles away, where it will be joined by the frigate INS Trikhand and fleet tanker INS Deepak.

The aircraft carrier underwent an issue-ridden reconstruction that lasted eight years at the Russian shipyard.

INS Vikramaditya is expected to be in Indian waters by the third week of January. Sources in Sevmash said Vikramaditya would transit three oceans and several seas during its maiden voyage. “It is planned that the aircraft carrier will reach India in the end of January. While crossing the distance at sea, the crew will check the air-conditioning system which should be tested at full load in conditions of tropical climate in the Indian Ocean. To ensure a guaranteed work of all systems of the ship at sea, we formed the team of Sevmash specialists — 177 persons, who participated in the tests of the aircraft carrier,” Sevmash’s Deputy Director-General Sergey Marichev said.

A number of specialists from the yard would remain in India through the guarantee period of one year to ensure that the ship has a smooth sail. “After this, we plan to sign a contract with the Indian side for service support for a period of 20 to 40 years,” said Mr. Marichev.

The aircraft carrier, whose handing over came five years after the original date of delivery and at a higher, renegotiated cost, is far from a serviceable platform at the moment. Sources in the Indian Navy indicated that the ship would take at least two years to add teeth and be ready for full-scale operational deployment.

The carrier hasn’t embarked its integral fleet of MiG-29K combat jets on its maiden voyage. It however has a dummy fighter, originally the first prototype of the fighter aircraft, besides a dummy Kamov to aid naval air technicians to fine-tune deck movement operations of aerial platforms.

Indian Navy Chief Admiral D.K. Joshi indicated that Indian naval fighter pilots would be certified to carry out flying operations from the carrier deck within weeks of the carrier’s arrival in India. A batch of combat fliers from the carrier air squadron ‘Black Panther’ is finishing simulator training on the fighter jet in Moscow. Prior to doing flying ops from the carrier deck, they perfect take-off and landing on the shore-based test facility (SBTF), which is getting ready at INS Hansa in Goa. Indian MiG-29 K pilots have already done take-off operations on the SBTF, set up with help from MiG.

SAM and close-in weapon system

The carrier, for now, is toothless. It will have to wait for its first round of refit, maybe after two years, to equip itself with a surface-to-air missile (SAM) and close-in weapon system (CIWS) for defence against aerial attack.

The Navy, it is believed, is eager to retrofit under-development India-Israel long-range SAM on the carrier. The JV missile is expected to be ready in a year and a half.

A top Navy official told The Hindu that the weapon systems for the carrier were being finalised and would be fitted at the first opportunity. “We don’t want to disrupt her operational schedule, as qualification of fighter pilots on the carrier deck is of top priority. Integration of the vessel into the fleet is a complex process.”

However, Sergey Vlasov, Director-General of Nevskoe Design Bureau, which designed Vikramaditya, recently said that while the carrier could be equipped with any surface-to-air missile, it would be a complex and tough process to arm it with an Israeli missile “as the rest of the integrated systems on the platform are all of Soviet origin”.

The silver lining for Vikramaditya now is that it comes fitted with a state-of-the-art combat management system, a potent electronic warfare suite, radio and electronic reconnaissance system, landing support system and automated system for air traffic control. “This allows the captain to have a fairly good understanding of the electronic warfare environment and take necessary actions,” he said.

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