After a long running saga of hard-nosed negotiations since the late-1990s, cost escalations, refit delays and mishaps, aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya has finally completed its extensive sea trials in Russia. The 44,570-tonne warship, or the refurbished Admiral Gorshkov, is now all set to be handed over to India in mid-November.
Defence ministry sources on Tuesday said INS Vikramaditya has “now successfully” finished its series of “sustained full-power and aviation trials” in the White and Barents Seas. “The carrier will now head back to the harbour at Severodvinsk. It will then be made ready for the commissioning on November 15. It will reach Indian shores, with an Indian crew commanded by Captain Suraj Berry, in early-2014,” said a source.
India has paid $2.33 billion for Vikramaditya’s refit, instead of the original $974 million earmarked in the January 2004 contract under which the carrier was to be originally delivered by August 2008. India is also spending another $2 billion to induct 45 Russian MiG-29K naval fighters to operate from the decks of INS Vikramaditya and the under-construction INS Vikrant, which too has been delayed at the Cochin Shipyard till at least end- 2018.
Given the huge delays in both the projects, the Navy will continue to flog its old warhorse, the 54-year-old INS Viraat, which is left with just 11 Sea Harrier jump-jets to operate from its deck, till 2018. The delays have also derailed the Navy’s long-stated aim to operate two full-fledged carrier battle groups (CBGs) anytime soon, as was earlier reported by TOI.
INS Vikramaditya was to be inducted into the Indian Navy by last December, as per the then re-revised time-frame but serious engine and boiler malfunctions during the trials delayed the delivery by another year.
With the Mumbai harbour not capable of handling INS Vikramaditya, the mammoth warship will be based at the Karwar naval base in coastal Karnataka, which has undergone its Phase-I development at a cost of Rs 2,629 crore. The government recently also approved the Phase-IIA expansion of Karwar, which gives India both strategic depth and operational flexibility, at a cost of Rs 13,000 crore.