INS Vikramaditya :: Lonewolf of the Indo-Pacific
INS Vikramaditya is a modified Kiev-class aircraft carrier which entered into service with the Indian Navy in 2013. She has been renamed in honour of Vikramaditya, a legendary emperor of Ujjain, India.
The carrier was purchased by India on 20 January 2004 after years of negotiations at a final price of $2.35 billion.The ship successfully completed her sea trials in July 2013 and aviation trials in September 2013.On 14 June 2014,Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi formally inducted INS Vikramaditya into the Indian Navy and dedicated it to the nation.
In the early 2000s, India faced a dilemma. The Indian navy’s only carrier INS Viraat was set to retire in 2007. Carriers help India assert influence over the Indian Ocean—not to mention, they’re status symbols. New Delhi needed to replace Viraat, and fast.
India’s options were limited. The only countries building carriers at the time—the United States, France and Italy—were building ships too big for India’s checkbook. In 2004, India and Russia struck a deal in which India would receive Admiral Gorshkov. The ship herself would be free, but India would pay $974 million dollars to Russia to upgrade her.
It was an ambitious project. At 44,500 tons, Admiral Gorshkov was a huge ship. Already more than a decade old, she had spent eight years languishing in mothballs. Indifference and Russia’s harsh winters are unkind to idle ships.
Russia would transform the vessel from a helicopter carrier with a partial flight deck to an aircraft carrier with a launch ramp and a flight deck just over 900 feet long. She would be capable of supporting 24 MiG-29K fighters and up to 10 Kamov helicopters.
She would have new radars, new boilers for propulsion, new arrester wires for catching landing aircraft and new deck elevators. All 2,700 rooms and compartments—spread out over 22 decks—would be refurbished and new wiring would be laid throughout the ship. The “new” carrier would be namedVikramaditya, after an ancient Indian king.
Admiral Gorshkov was put in hibernation after her last sailing in 1995. With most of her equipment lying un-utilised since then, the task of breathing life and converting her from a VTOL (Vertical Takeoff and Landing) missile cruiser carrier to a STOBAR aircraft carrier involved substantial degutting, equipment removal, refit and re-equipping. The major works envisaged were modification of flight deck to include ski-jump and arrester gear; modification of bulbous bow, aft aircraft lift & ammunition lifts; modification of 1750 out of 2500 compartments; installation of new main boilers; installation of new and additional Diesel Generators; replacement of existing distilling plants; fitment of Reverse Osmosis plants, new AC plants and Refrigeration plants and installation of new sensors and equipment. In 2007, as the refit and repair of the ship was in progress, the yard realized that the scope of work was much larger than initially estimated and so a revised timeline for completion of the task of modernization was agreed upon by both Russian and Indian sides. With a revised timeline the delivery of ship was expected by end 2012
Creation of Ski Jump
Putting the 900 tonne Ski Jump in place
Creation of the flight deck with structural modification to convert the VTOL carrier to a STOBAR carrier was the most intricate and arduous. The task involved installation of Sponsons to increase the breadth at the Flight Deck and a fitment of a new 14 degree Ski jump, strengthening of arresting gear area, strengthening of run way area and elongation of the aft end to generate the required length of landing strip aft of the arresting gear. In all 234 new hull sections were installed to achieve the desired shape. Total steel work for carrying out structural modification on flight deck amounted to 2500T.
Modification of Super structure
The superstructure was modified to accommodate a host of sensors and equipment such as radars, Electronic Warfare suite and Action Information Organisation system and other systems to suit the requirements of ship borne fighters and rotors. A very unique structural modification that was carried out on board the ship was the installation of the aft mast for accommodating various communication antennae.
Vikramaditya in its older avatar was powered by boilers fuelled by heavy oil, FFO. The re-equipping included replacement of these old boilers with state of the art boilers utilizing LSHSD and providing a steam capacity of 100 Tonnes per Hour each.
The initial estimate included replacement of only 1400 kms of old cable with new cables. However, as degutting progressed and confined spaces were accessed it was realised that an additional 900 kms of cable will need to be replaced. Finally the mammoth task involved replacing 2300 kms of cable, which is a little short of half of the entire coastline of India.
The modification plan of Vikramaditya was not restricted to the gears and sparks alone. The change also necessitated revamp of the living spaces and galleys to cater to the needs of the Indian men in uniform. Of 2500 a total of 1750 compartments were completely re-fabricated. A host of new galley equipment suited for preparation of Indian food like dosas and chapatis was also installed.
Arrestor and Restraining Gears
The conversion of VTOL carrier to STOBAR involved fitment of three 30m wide arrester gears and three restraining gears. Installation of these equipment not only involved modification and strengthening of the flight deck but also changes to internal layout of compartments.
Vikramaditya has been designed as a STOBAR carrier capable of operating both conventional fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, with up to 34 aircraft capable of being accommodated. Its primary embarked aircraft type is the Mikoyan MiG-29K, a navalised version of the Mikoyan MiG-29M. The MiG-29K is an advanced, all weather multi-role fighter capable of undertaking both the fleet air defence, low level strike and anti-shipping roles. The primary ASW platform is the venerable Westland Sea King, For Anti Submarine Operation Ka-28 and Ka-31 is an Airborne Early Warning (AEW) platform which provides over the horizon coverage. The Dhruv and Chetak are light utility helicopters. Carriage ranges given for the ship seem to converge around 16-24 MiG-29K and 10 Kamov Ka-31 or Dhruv helicopters; however Vikramaditya is not capable of operating fixed-wing AEW aircraft owing to her configuration as a STOBAR carrier.
The main strike force will be the MiG-29K which is a medium multirole fighter which can perform Air superiority and ground attack missions. The MiG-29K will enable the Vikramaditya to conduct strikes on enemy shipping as far as 1000 km away using drop tanks and Kh-31/Kh-35 Anti-Ship missiles, rockets and bombs.The MiG 29K aircraft is a state of the art, all weather, carrier based, air dominance fighter specially built for the Indian Navy. The aircraft has a maximum speed over twice the speed of sound (about 2000 kmph), can pull up to 8 times the force of gravity, can climb to an altitude of over 65000 feet. Armed with an arsenal of some of the most sophisticated weapons in the world it is fully equipped to dominate by engaging targets in air, at sea or on land.
Currently, Vikramaditya is left defenseless against air attacks due to the delay in procuring Medium range SAMs and Close In Weapon Systems (CIWS). It is scheduled to be fitted with the Israeli Barak-8 SAM during its first refit in 2017. Until then, it will have to depend entirely on its escorts for protection against aerial threats. It does have countermeasures and jammers which are used to confuse the enemy missiles and aircraft in case of an attack.
INS Vikramaditya Controversy or Criticsm
INS Vikramaditya has received sharp criticism from India’s CAG which stated that the objective of the Indian Navy to induct an aircraft carrier has not been achieved and highlighted that the ship was a second hand one. Since the report is coming from a higher level, people are keen to agree with it and criticize the acquisition plans. But my question is , if this deal wasn’t the right one for the navy, could you tell me from where else could the Indian Navy have acquired a 45,000 ton carrier with the ability to operate around 30 aircraft including the conventional MiG-29k and not just Sea Harriers which offer limited power projection? The answer is clear. Nowhere else. The Europeans are building light carriers of 20-25,000 tons which can operate only STOVL aircraft like Harriers and F-35B. The Americans won’t sell any of their carriers and that’s all there is to say. It was rumored that USS Kitty Hawk was offered to the Indian Navy and it mostly isn’t. Even if it was true, India would have limited use for a 50 year old supercarrier which would cost a bomb to operate.
Now, how is it that I am saying that the INS Vikramaditya is perfect for the Indian Navy. Even though it overran initial budget estimations, it was the only option for the Indian Navy and it is worth every dollar of the 2.5 billion $ which India paid for its flagship. It fulfills the Indian doctrine of being able to project power using an aircraft carrier. India doesn’t need an ultra-expensive, ultra large carrier like the US, as the Indian doctrine doesn’t dictate global presence and involvement in all of the ‘hot’ zones around the world. The Indian Navy needs a carrier to enable it to project power in the Indian Ocean and safeguard the Indian interests. Vikramaditya does that, and does it very well. Looking at the situation in a practical manner, the only major naval presence in the Indian Ocean are India and USA. Being an ally, US isn’t competing with India in projection of naval power and is working together with India to ensure peace and stability in the Indian Ocean. The real threat comes from the increasing Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean. Vikramaditya is more than enough to serve as a deterrent as the Chinese navy just has a theoretical blue water navy which can’t deploy carrier battle groups or nuclear submarines in faraway regions and sustain them usefully. Their carrier doesn’t have a proper air wing and is years away from attaining combat clearance. So apart from the US naval presence, INS Vikramaditya, with its battle group will be the king of the Indian Ocean.
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