Naval Air: The Slow Slog To Successful Service For Vikrant


August 20, 2013: On August 12, India launched its first locally made aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant. There is still much work to do and the Vikrant will not enter service for another five years. The largely completed hull will now be moved to another dock so that the flight deck and some internal work can be completed. The current schedule calls for sea trails to begin in 2016, followed by needed modifications and then, in 2018, commissioning.

This was actually the second launching for the Vikrant. Back in December, 2011, the vessel was floated out of the dry dock. Construction had begun five years ago but was delayed a bit because Russia was late in supplying the high-grade steel needed for the hull. The Vikrant was not supposed to leave dry dock in 2011, but the dock was needed for another project. Construction went on, with pipes, conduits, and other fittings installed and in 2012. Vikrant returned to another dry dock to have its engines and other major equipment installed. At that point it was thought the vessel wouldn’t be ready for sea trials until 2015. That has since been delayed another year.

The 40,000 ton Vikrant has a ski-jump deck, like the INS Vikramaditya, and is designed to carry 29 jet fighters and ten helicopters. A second Indian carrier is in the planning stages and will be based on Vikrant but will be larger (65,000 tons) and use a catapult instead of a ski jump for takeoffs. That enables aircraft to take off carrying more weight and some kinds of aircraft (like radar early warning types) to be used. The navy wants to see how the Vikrant works out before committing to the final design for Vikrant 2.0.

At the moment, India's sole current aircraft carrier is the 29,000 ton INS Viraat, which emerged from 18 months in a shipyard (for maintenance and upgrades) three years ago. This work could have been avoided by the timely arrival (four years ago) of the INS Vikramaditya (the refurbished Russian carrier Gorshkov). If that had happened, the INS Viraat would have been retired in 2012, after 53 years' service (for Britain and India). But now the INS Viraat, with its engine and hull refurbished and its electronics upgraded, will probably serve for another decade. Thus, by 2015, India will have two large carriers in operation and some bitter memories of their experience with the Russians over the Vikramaditya, which finally completed sea trials this year.



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