ARMS RACE IN INDIAN OCEAN- ON!
The Russia-built INS Vikramaditya, formerly known as Admiral Gorshkov, will join the U.K.-built INS Viraat—currently the Indian Navy’s only aircraft carrier in operation. The delivery of the carrier was delayed by about five years because of disagreements over the cost of refurbishments.
India in August launched its first indigenous aircraft carrier, the INS Vikrant. The Vikrant, which was named after the country’s first and now decommissioned aircraft carrier, is likely to be combat-ready in 2018.
India’s Defense Minister A. K. Antony will commission Vikramaditya at the Sevmash Shipyard in Severodvinsk, during a four-day visit to Russia, during which he will also attend a meeting on bilateral military cooperation.
A defense ministry official told India Real Time Thursday that Vikramaditya is expected to join the Indian Navy’s fleet early next year.
Named after a legendary Indian king, the addition of the carrier would be a shot in the arm for the navy as the country’s first aircraft carrier was decommissioned in 1997 after 36 years’ service. That left India with only one such vessel–the INS Viraat, which was also acquired from the U.K. in 1987.
With a displacement of 44,500 tons and a length of 284 meters, the Vikramaditya can carry more than 30 aircraft, including Russia-made MiG-29K and U.K.-built Sea Harrier fighter jets, as well as Kamov, Sea King, Dhruv and Chetak helicopters. It has an extensive array of sensors, including long-range air surveillance radars, an advanced electronic warfare suite, which allows surveillance to be maintained over 500 kilometers around the ship, according to the navy.
“An aircraft carrier carrying potent long range multi-role fighters is a platform inherently designed for power projection,” the navy said in a statement. “In as much as Gorshkov was transformed to create Vikramaditya, so also Vikramaditya will transform the face of the fleet air arm of the Indian Navy.”
The ministry said the ship, which would be a “game-changer”, would have about 1,600 navy personnel and travel up to 13,000 kilometers. The Vikramaditya is powered by eight boilers with a maximum speed of 30 knots, equivalent to about 55 kilometers an hour.
India signed a pact in April 2004 to buy the Admiral Gorshkov and refurbish the ship for total of 48.82 billion rupees ($775 million), eight years after Russia decommissioned the ship.
The Vikramaditya was originally scheduled to be delivered in 52 months but it was delayed because of extensive refurbishments that were originally not factored in and cost escalations by Russia that led to disagreements with India.
According to the navy, the entire length of cables, large portions of the ship’s hull, and all its motors, boilers and turbines had to be replaced resulting in “cost escalation and time slippage.”
“Though the re-negotiated price was significantly higher than what was originally agreed upon, the fillip that the addition of Gorshkov would give to the blue water requirements of the Indian Navy compensated the greater price,” it said.
The navy didn’t disclose the revised cost of refurbishing the aircraft carrier.
The addition of the Vikramaditya forms part of India’s efforts to build its naval strength–key to controlling its vast coastline and also counter China, which is several decades behind India in operating a fully-fledged aircraft carrier.
India commissioned its first aircraft carrier, the INS Vikrant, in 1961 while China’s navy began training maneuvers last year with its first carrier–the hull of which was purchased from Ukraine.
China has however begun a rapid modernization drive of its navy and also been venturing away from its home waters, with warships sent on anti-piracy patrols off Somalia and voyages between the islands of Japan into the Pacific Ocean.
Tensions between China and India — the world’s two most-populous nations — have intensified in recent years, especially along the neighbors’ disputed Himalayan border. India has also grown increasingly worried about China’s presence in the Indian Ocean region with Beijing funding the construction of ports in Pakistan and Sri Lanka.