The Navy will have to make do without an aircraft carrier at least till August, when the ageing INS Viraat is expected back in active service after a periodic refit lasting nearly 10 months.

The carrier is now doing trials off Kochi following a Rs. 70-crore refit at the Cochin Shipyard Limited (CSL) during which its underwater surface was restored and hull painted. It is set to head for Mumbai by mid-March for further docking at the Naval Dockyard for repairs to its auxiliary equipment, propulsion, boilers and air conditioning which will take another five months for completion.

“The refit will see the ship through another three years, with sporadic maintenance,” said a Navy official. “However, one cannot predict how long it will last in service as it is linked to several other factors,” he added, hinting at the long-delayed acquisition of INS Vikramaditya, formerly Russian carrier Admiral Gorshkov, whose boilers broke down during pre-delivery trials in Russia in June last.

Navy sources said work on the four boilers that conked out was over and the ship would be undocked for a fresh round of trials, including aviation trials, when sea ice melted “in preparation for its induction in the last quarter of 2013.”

“The crew of the ship is being dispatched to Russia in batches. The carrier will undergo all trials, including deck-based operation of MiG-29K aircraft which will form its fleet, and high-speed trials before induction,” said the official.

The Viraat, on its part, got fresh hull metal plating wherever corrosion had set in, during the latest refit. Its underwater equipment got a revamp, too.

June would be a rather special month for the Navy when the first indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC), under construction, comes out of the Cochin Shipyard’s building bay on completion of phase-I work, after a delay of over a year caused by non-delivery of critical equipment on time.

The 40,000-tonne IAC currently weighs about 17,500 tonnes and sources have indicated that the next launch of the carrier, complete with propulsion, shafting and other equipment, will be in self-propelled mode.

The shipyard was forced to carry out a low-key launch of the IAC in December 2011 to make way for commercial work after the gearboxes delivered to go into it were adjudged faulty. The platform, to be named Vikrant after the now-decommissioned carrier, was re-docked in February this year when equipment supply became steady. Contract negotiations for phase-II of carrier construction are under way.

Plans for second carrier

Concurrently, plans for indigenous construction of a second aircraft carrier — a much bigger one at 60,000 tonnes — are afoot with the Navy weighing various options.

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