Russia is likely to carry out fresh sea trials of INS Vikramaditya next April, after a failed propulsion trial of the refurbished aircraft carrier further delayed the delivery to India until the last quarter of 2013.
A senior defense ministry official says the Indian government is upset over the delay in delivering the 44,500-ton, Kiev-class aircraft carrier, the former Admiral Gorshkov. However, “Russia has assured the government that all efforts would be taken to prevent any further delay,” the official says. “India’s frustration [will] be conveyed to Russian President Vladimir Putin during his visit to the country in December.”
India will be able to take delivery of the aircraft carrier from Russia only by the end of next year, against the envisaged delivery schedule this December.
The refurbished carrier underwent extensive trials from June to September with a part of the Indian crew on board. A substantial scope of the ship’s equipment and aviation trials were also completed during this period.
“However, the main propulsion plant trials to full power could not be completed during sea trials due to defects encountered in the boiler section,” Defense Minister A.K. Antony told parliament Nov. 26. “Rectification of the defect is likely to take six months. Post contract conclusion in 2004, the ship was put to sea for the first time in June 2012 and that is when these defects were encountered.”
According to reports, during the carrier’s power plant trial run, seven out of eight steam boilers broke down. The malfunctions probably were caused by India’s refusal to use traditional asbestos as thermal insulation for boilers because of the danger to the crew. Indian engineers wanted to use fireproof bricks instead, reports indicated.
The carrier deal between India and Russia was signed in 2004, but delivery was delayed by four years due to cost revisions by Russia to retrofit the ship. When the agreement originally was signed, it cost $1.5 billion, but that was later revised to $2.3 billion with a planned delivery date of December 2012. Despite the additional delay to 2013, the cost will remain at $2.3 billion, Antony says.
The Indian navy, as of now, has a single carrier, the INS Viraat. The warship has served the Navy for 25 years and was due to be decommissioned in 2002.
“In the interim, the operational requirement of the navy would be met by INS Viraat, which will remain in service till the induction of Vikramaditya,” Antony says.
Once the carrier is inducted, the INS Vikramaditya will be the biggest ship in the Indian military, able to carry 24 MiG-29K/KUBs and six to eightKa-31 airborne early warning helicopters.
According to the defense ministry official, the aim is to have at least two fully operational and combat-ready carriers available at any given time. The Indian navy wants to operate two such warships at its eastern and western seaboards.
Major changes to the ship include the removal of cruise missile tubes and surface-to-air missile vertical launchers, and the installation of a forward flight deck and ski jump for short-takeoff, assisted-recovery operations.
The ministry was informed about the delivery delays during defense minister-level talks in October, but there was confusion about whether the project cost would also go up due to the delay.
India is working on two important aircraft carrier projects at the moment, including the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC) and the Gorshkov project, but both are delayed by more than three to four years.
INS Vikramaditya photo: India Defense Ministry