The Indian Navy’s newest and largest aircraft carrier has quite the history behind it. From long delays in procurement, heavy cost-overruns and even a Cold War style spy-game with NATO aircraft, its safe presence in the hands of the Navy today has many heaving sighs of relief.
Here are some facts about the Navy’s flagship vessel.
- As Deals Go, the Vikramaditya Was a Steal. At First.
The warship was a former Kiev-class carrier of the then Soviet Navy. Commissioned in 1988, she was retired from service eight years later after post-Soviet Russia found such carriers too expensive to maintain. India, which was looking for a way to replace the ageing INS Viraat before its expected service retirement in 2007 smelled a business deal. Negotiations began in 1994.
Ten years later, a deal was signed. The carrier would be sold for free, and India would pay $974 million to Russia to upgrade it from what was primarily a helicopter carrier to a fully-fledged aircraft carrier. India decided to buy planes to match with it as well, ordering 12 MiG-29Ks and 4 MiG-29KUBs from Russia in 2004; later signing a $1.2 billion deal for 29 more MiG-29Ks in 2010.
The initial appearance was that the Navy had acquired a semi-new aircraft carrier for less than a billion dollars. However, this was clearly too good to be true. Sevmash, the shipyard who retrofitted the warship for India demanded more than twice the original amount at $2.9 million in 2007. Sevmash then began to visibly drag their feet in construction, citing the task as being ‘much more complicated than anybody had imagined’. The deal was stalled, but India was pushed to a corner due to how much was already invested in the carrier. India agreed to pay $2.2 billion more in 2010, which led to Sevmash speeding up the work, ultimately delivering the carrier in 2013.
The then defence minister, A.K. Anthony, was visibly relieved at the commissioning ceremony, saying “there was a time when we thought we would never get her”.The Indian Navy Cihef of Naval Staff defended against criticism from the Comptroller and Auditor General of India that the warship, though second-hand, would ultimately work out to be 60% costlier than a new carrier. “I can’t comment on the CAG. But you all are defence analysts; can you get me an aircraft carrier for less than USD two billion? If you can, I am going to sign a cheque right now”.
- China Has Two of the Three Existing Kiev-Class Carriers
The Kiev class of carriers that INS Vikramaditya (formerly Baku) hails from has a quirky place in the present. Out of the four original carriers, only one is operational and in active use and that is our very own Vikramadita. Of the others, one was decommissioned and scrapped by the Russian Navy, while the Kiev and Minsk were sold to China, where one was made a luxury hotel and the other a museum.
- Vikramaditya Was Spied on by NATO Aircraft during Sea Trials
The carrier was undergoing its sea trials along the Russian coast, still flying a Russian flag, when a Norwegian NATO P-3C surveillance aircraft started ‘buzzing’ the ship, flying overheard and dropping sensor buoys to get a feel for its electronics systems and capabilities. It did not leave until a Russian Navy MiG-29K was summoned from shore to chase it away.
Senior defence analyst Shiv Aroor was on board when the incident happened. The matter was taken to the diplomatic level, but neither Indian nor NATO officials had any comments. Snooping attempts by both sides of the former Cold War rivals are common, but that an Indian vessel was targeted here is the interesting bit.
- Automated Dosa and Idli Making Technology
Using technology developed by Mysore’s Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI), Eskay Enterprises installed six dosa-making machines and three-idli-making machines onboard the Vikramaditya. The machines can churn out 400 dosas and 1,000 idlis per hour.
The Navy will be well fed, with the carrier requiring over a lakh of eggs, 20,000 litres of milk and 16 tonnes of rice every month; allowing her to sustain herself out at sea for about 45 days.
- It’s Still Not Fully Operational
Concerns with the Mig-29K fleet used on the carrier have led to the Indian Navy asking Russia to prove the single engine landing capability of the aircraft, after nearly 30 of the RD-33MK engines powering them have failed since the beginning of testing onboard the Vikramaditya, according to an article by The Hindu.
This, coupled with the fact that most of the carrier’s air defences were removed during the retrofitting to a full runway and ski jump means that it will have no aerial defences until 2017, according to an official Indian CAG report. The INS Viraat, expected to retire in 2007 will now do so in 2016, 9 years past the original date the Vikramaditya was expected to be operational by.
But the delay may not be so bad, as the Navy prepares ever more improvements for the carrier, including arming it with Israeli Barak missiles, Naval versions of the LCA Tejas and drones. Lots of drones.
Image Source: The Viewspaper