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Navy set to get its largest aircraft carrier tomorrow

NS Viraat sets out for Oman to escort new ship home after handover in Russia.

Written by Manu Pubby | Severodvinsk |
November 15, 2013 1:29:39 am

Ending a nine-year wait,aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya will be inducted into the Indian Navy by Defence Minister A K Antony at the Sevmash shipyard in Severodvinsk,Russia on Saturday.

The first aircraft carrier to join the Navy in over two decades,Vikramaditya,the former Gorshkov,will set sail for India after the handing-over ceremony. It is likely to be greeted by a ship that already has a very special place in the Navy. INS Viraat,India’s lone aircraft carrier,is said to be heading to Oman to escort the Vikramaditya home.

In a show of strength and capability,the two aircraft carriers are expected to sail together in the Arabian Sea before the Vikramaditya heads for its final berthing place in Karwar. The deployment will be one of the last overseas sailings for INS Viraat that has been in service with the Indian Navy since 1987 and is overdue for retirement,given that the hull is now over five decades old.

For Vikramaditya,the long journey home will be challenging — it will be unarmed,and will sail without weapons or fighter aircraft on board while making the transition from freezing seas to tropical waters. The Navy is planning a five-ship escort.

After it sets sail from Severodvinsk,the Vikramaditya,commanded by Commodore Suraj Berry,will be met by INS Deepak,a tanker ship,near Murmansk. Also tailing the aircraft carrier will be a Talwar-class frigate. Additional ships will join the convoy near Gibraltar. Though the final route home has not been revealed,the ship is likely to use the Suez Canal and will meet the Viraat once it reaches the Oman coast.

The escort is required especially as the route through the Suez will raise serious security issues given the multiple threats that can emerge in the region. The Navy has been tightlipped and has prepared the carrier for a sixty-day sail. This means that a route skirting Africa is also not being ruled out.

The Navy is also certain that the ship will be tailed and will be under surveillance throughout its journey home by all navies operating in the region. The Pakistani Navy is expected to try and gather as much information as possible on the Vikramaditya once it nears Indian waters and is likely to deploy warships as well as aircraft to monitor the carrier.

But there will be little to watch as the carrier will not conduct flying operations on its journey to India. The only flying elements on board are helicopters that are used for anti-submarine operations and utility purposes.

As thing stand,only three Indian aviators have landed on the ship,all sitting in the “passenger” seat of the MiG-29 KUB. One of them is Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha,the Western Navy Commander under whose authority the ship will operate once it joins the fleet. Incidentally,Sinha is Grey Eagle,the name given to the seniormost aviator of the Navy.

Besides the crew of over 1,600 Indian sailors,the ship will also have 183 Russian technicians on board for the home journey. They will monitor all systems and assist the Indian crew. Several adjustments also need to be made to ship systems when it enters warmer waters,including tuning of the air-conditioning plant. The Russian crew will also be in Karwar for a year as part of the guarantee contract to ensure that the carrier remains snag-free.

A series of hits and misses saw the delivery time of the ship extended by five years and there was a significant cost escalation. But Vikramaditya has finally aced trials by reaching a top speed of 29.5 knots and successfully demonstrating its ‘stealth mode’ by blinding incoming aircraft with its electronic warfare suite.

The three-month trials in the White and Barents sea that concluded late September saw the carrier being pushed to its limits and coming out with flying colours. The main issue that delayed delivery by a year — malfunctioning insulation in the boilers — has also been resolved and the ship exceeded speeds of 29 knots on a regular basis during the trials,

“We met all parameters during the trials. The ship performed really well and the propulsion plant as well as the boilers did not have any problems. Of the 8,600 miles that the ship sailed,1,700 miles were under the command of Commodore Suraj Berry (the Indian commanding officer),” Sergey Novoselov,Head of Military Technical Cooperation Division,Sevmash said.

(This correspondent is in Russia at the invitation of the Sevmash shipyard)

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