Sweet Homecoming
INS Vikramaditya to finally set sail for home on November 15

INS Vikramaditya

St Petersburg: Even as this is being written, INS Vikramaditya, the aircraft carrier that the Indian government has a paid a fortune to acquire, will be going through its paces in White Sea and Barents Sea, off Severodvinsk, where Sevmash Shipyard is located. If things go well, then this would be the last round of sea trials, before the mammoth ship sails home to India.

However, as the proverb goes, there are many a slips between the cup and the lip. And last year, the deadline for delivery of the aircraft carrier fell through one such slip. During the sea trials last year, which were supposed to have been final test of mettle, eight boilers (that power the ship) started to overheat, leading to the melting of the cardboard-based material that had earlier replaced asbestos on Indian demand. This caused damage to the surrounding bricks. As a result, instead of achieving the optimum speed of 28 knots, INS Vikramaditya could not push itself beyond 27.8 knots.

But this was not the only problem. The air-conditioning plants had hiccups too, as did the water desalination plant. The sand filter of the plant (supplied by India) developed cracks and sea water entered the plant. With the basic infrastructure of the ship croaking, the lethality of the aircraft carrier could not be tested, the ship rolled back to the yard and the delivery date was pushed forward.

Once again, INS Vikramaditya is rolling on the gentle waters of the White Sea with 2,500 people on board including 50 Indians that comprise the inspection team, to test various systems including aircraft take-off and landing equipment. The tests will continue for a month, after which the floating mini-city will sail into Barents Sea to test actual take-offs and landings on the flight decks. While the MiG-29Ks will do the honour (as these are the aircraft of choice of the Indian Navy), assisting them by simulating unfriendly, and sometimes hostile conditions would be Russian aerial platforms like Ilyushin, Su-33 and A-50 AEW&C. Apart from flying, these aircraft will also help in testing the electronic counter measures (ECM) and radio communication equipment. In addition to the fighter fleet, helicopters like Ka-28 and Ka-31 will also be tested during the trials.

Designed by the Nevskoe Design Bureau, the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya was born as a helicopter cruiser Admiral Gorshkov in 1982. But the dwindling Soviet economy and its eventual collapse ensured that the helicopter cruiser became unaffordable. An accidental fire on board the ship firmly put it out of service. Eventually, in the mid-Nineties, Russia offered it to the Indian Navy as a gift, provided India paid for its refit and refurbishing. Talks started in 1996 and the first protocol was signed in 1998. India bargained hard, and Russia gave in. Interestingly, a decade later, the tables were turned.
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