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R Vikramaditya [ex-Gorshkov] Aircraft Carrier

The Vikramaditya, a refurbished Russian carrier formerly known as the Admiral Gorshkov, arrived at a naval base in Kanwar in the western state of Karnataka on January 07, 2014. A team of Russian specialists arrived onboard the ship and will stay in India for a year to fix any possible glitches if needed.

Russia handed over to India its aircraft carrier renamed INS Vikramaditya on 16 November 2013 after a much-delayed refit and cost escalations that led to disagreements between Moscow and New Delhi. The Indian Navy finally received its modified carrier – formerly known in Russian as Admiral Gorshkov - at the Sevmash shipyard in the northern town of Severodvinsk. The ship was first scheduled to be delivered in 2008, but the deadline was repeatedly postponed over the period.

The official ceremony was attended Saturday by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin and Indian Defense Minister AK Antony, who arrived in Russia on Friday for a four-day visit. The commissioning papers were signed by deputy director of Russia’s arms exporter Rosoboronexport Igor Sevastyanov and the ship’s Indian captain Suraj Berry. The Vikramaditya will be escorted to India by a group of warships to secure its safe sail to its base in base in the Arabian Sea through a classified route because it does not have any air defense systems on board.

The warship was expected to reach India by February 2014, Russian officials said earlier. Renamed after a legendary Indian king, the warship was originally as a Project 1143.4 or modified Kiev class aircraft carrier commissioned by the Soviet Navy in 1987. It was decommissioned in 1996 after cuts to the Russian Navy fleet. The refurbishments of the vessel lurched from one crisis to another since the $947 million deal was signed with Russia in 2004 for its purchase and refit. The delays pushed up the cost of its refurbishing to $2.3 billion, sparking acrimony between Russia and India over the contract.

The ex-Admiral Gorshkov was initially expected to be handed over to the Indian Navy in August 2008, renamed as INS Vikramaditya. But in February 2009 Press Trust of India reported that Russia was seeking an additional US$700 million for the refitting, repairs and delivery of INS Vikramaditya (Admiral Gorshkov) aircraft carrier. The Russian decision to seek USD 700 million dollars was conveyed to India on 10 February 2009 during a bilateral meeting to re-negotiate the Russian demand for additional payment. Sevmash Shipyard was stressing on an immediate release of USD 190 million for continuing the repair work. The US$700 million was over and above the additional INR 1.2 billion the Russians were already demanding for the warship, which had been "bought" by India in 2004 for US$974 million. Russia would now agree on a "final" price of US$2.9 billion, a bargain as the cost of building a new aircraft carrier of this size would be in the region of $4 billion.

The ship has been rechristened as ‘Vikramaditya’ after the legendry King of Ujjain famed for his valor, wisdom and magnanimity. Chandragupta II (380 to 413 AD) tried to be better than his father Samudragupta, and most historians agree, he was certainly successful. Vikramaditya is THE LEGENDARY emperor of India. More stories/legends are associated with him than any other ruler of India. It was during his (and his son Kumargupta) reign, India was at the pinnacle of prosperity and opulence. Although named after his grandfather Chandragupta, he took a title of Vikramaditya, which became a synonym for sovereign of tremendous power and wealth. This title was later taken up by scores of other sovereign rulers of India. Vikramaditya succeeded his father Samudragupta (possibly there was another prince, or his elder brother who ruled briefly, and according to legends slayed by Shakas), and carried on the policy of `world conquest' of his predecessors. Vikramaditya's reign was perhaps THE most prosperous and progressive reign in the ENTIRE Indian history.

Negotiations between Russia and India began in 1994 for the sale of the Admiral Gorshkov, which had been inactive since 1991. In 1998, India and Russia agreed in principle on the sale of the Admiral Gorshkov. India would get the hull for free, but would finance the refurbishing of the warship by Russia's defense industry.

On 11 January 1999 Indian Minister of Defense George Fernandes acknowledged that agreement had been reached on the sale. But it took another five years to work finalize a price and terms. The Gorshkov reportedly would be extensively modified at a cost of between $500-650 million to accommodate conventional take-off and landing aircraft [possibly either the Su-27K Flanker-D or the smaller MiG-29K Fulcrum-D]. The refit would include addition of a bow ski-jump take-off ramp, and removal of the missile launchers to make room for the ramp. The refit at Severodvinsk was expected to take up to three years.

An Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) was signed on October 04, 2000 with the Government of the Russian Federation which, inter-alia, provides for the acquisition of 'Admiral Gorshkov', an aircraft carrier, from Russia and its refit and modernisation. The Russian Side had furnished a Detailed Project Document (DPD), which, inter-alia, defines the package for refit and modernisation of the ship. Technical discussions on the package are, presently, being held between the experts of the two Sides. An investment decision on the acquisition of 'Admiral Gorshkov' had not yet been taken as of March 2002.

As of early 2001 negotiations continued, with Russia offering to donate the ship itself if India paid the conversion costs [which India was reluctant to do]. By late 2000 India had rejected the Russian offer of 22 new MiG-29K shipboard fighters, which remained unproven for naval service.

On 20 January 2004, it was announced that India and Russia had signed a $1.6 billion deal finalizing the sale of the Admiral Gorshkov to India. According to the deal, half of the money would spent at the Northern machine-building factory in Severodvinsk, to refurbish the carrier with the other half being spent on MIG 29-K fighter jets and anti-submarine helicopters. When the ship was part of the Soviet fleet, it used vertical take-off aircraft. Now it would use MiG-29K planes, and the deck must be refurbished to accommodate the installation of a landing strip and a catapult. The rest of the money is going to the acquisition of 16 MiG-29K fighter jets, and up to 10 helicopters that can fit onto the ship. Gorshkov is slated to join the Indian navy in 2008 after a refit. The Navy looke at equipping the carrier Gorshkov (INS Vikramaditya) with the E- 2C, but decided not to.

The navy agreed to buy the Russian aircraft carrier, the Admiral Gorshkov, for a nominal fee. But it required a $670m refit and would eventually have between 18 to 20 Mig 29 fighters which would cost in excess of $1bn. Gorshkov, which was slated to join the Indian navy in May 2008 after a refit.

The conversion plans for the aircraft carrier saw all the armament, including the P-500 Bazalt cruise missile launchers and the four Antey Kinzhal surface-to-air missile launchers fitted on the front of the carrier, removed to make way for a 14.3º bow ski-jump. Two restraining stands would also be fitted, allowing combat aircraft to reach full power before making a ski-jump-assisted short take-off. The ability to launch only one aircraft at a time, might prove to be a hindrance. Under the modernization plan, the 20-ton capacity elevator beside the ship's island superstructure would remain unchanged, but the aft lift would be enlarged and its lift capacity increased to 30 tons. Three arresting gears would be fitted on the aft part of the angled deck. Navigation and carrier-landing aids would be refitted to support fixed-wing STOBAR (Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery) operations including the LAK optical-landing system.

The eight boilers were renewed and converted to take diesel fuel instead of furnace fuel oil and modern oil-water separators as well as sewage treatment plant are being incorporated to meet international standards. She is also being fitted with six new Italian-made Wärtsilä 1.5 MW diesel generators, Global Marine communications system, Sperry Bridgemaster navigation radar, a new telephone exchange, new data link and IFF Mk XI system. Hotel services are being improved with new water-producing plants as well as York International refrigeration and air conditioning. A new galley is being installed together with improved domestic services and accommodation for 10 female officers.

Though the official expected life span of the ship is 20 years, experts suggest it could actually be a minimum of 30 years from the time of commissioning. On completion of the modernisation, 70 percent of the ship and its equipment would be new and remainder would have been refurbished.

The Nevskoye PKB bureau in St. Petersburg designed all Soviet aircraft-carrying cruisers and developed modernization documentation for the Gorshkov. Yet the gap between the Kuznetsov’s launch in 1985 and re-launch of the Virkamaditya caused problems. Regaining once-lost skills proved a painful experience and the work involved altering many newly-made drawings until they were mature enough for dockyard interpretation. Specialized in submarines, Sevmash and the Nevskoye PKB had never worked together before, and the latter experienced difficulties in using the former’s documentation.

Sevmash shipyard director Vladimir Pastukhov was fired in 2007 over his poor management of the project. In late 2008 the Russian government loaned the Sevmash shipyard $250 million to continue the rebuilding work on Gorshkov without interruption. Although the Russian government had demanded an additional US$ 1.2 billion from India for the carrier, it extended the credit to the shipyard as an interim step until an agreement with India is finalized. The original delivery date / schedule was revised from August 2008 to December 2012. Russian officials indicated that Gorshkov would be ready in 2011, and after a year of sea trials, it would be operational sometime in late 2012. The original price tag was fixed at $978.4 million in 2004 when the deal was signed, but it was “revised” to $2.3 billion for delivery in 2012.

The Vikramaditya was to have been handed over to India on 04 December 2012 after sea trials, following a much-delayed refit that went massively over-budget. The aircraft carrier was subjected to extensive trials for the first time for 108 days from 08 June 2012 to 23 September 2012, with a part of the Indian crew on board, undergoing training during the sea trials. While a substantial scope of ship's equipment and aviation trials were completed during this period, the main propulsion plant trials to full power could not be completed due to defects encountered on boiler section. The aircraft carrier Vikramaditya suffered a propulsion casualty during sea trials in the Barents Sea in August 2012.

In September 2012 Andrei Dyachkov, President of United Russian Shipbuilding corporation which refitted the carrier, claimed the ship's boilers had been damaged due to failures in the brick insulation separating them from the ship's structure. The shipyard used "sub-standard Chinese firebricks," Dyachkov said. Another official involved in preparing the Vikramaditya for sea trials, claimed the reason for the boilers’ failure was India refused to use asbestos to protect the structure around the boilers from heat, fearing that the material was dangerous for the crew. He said the boilers’ designer had to use firebrick, which proved not sufficiently heatproof. China denied Russian claims that Chinese firebricks were to blame for boiler failures. Defense Minister Yan Yujun said "We checked this, and found that Chinese enterprises which make such firebricks for naval propulsion systems have never exported such products to Russia."

Rectification of the defect was likely to take six months. The deadline was postponed again until October 2013, and the cost of the new repairs to the boilers was not initially revealed. The Russian side was requested to take up necessary measures to ensure delivery of ship in the last quarter of 2013 as against envisaged delivery schedule of December 2012. This information was given by Defence Minister Shri AK Antony in a written reply to ShrimatiVasanthi Stanley and Shri Sanjay Rautin Rajya Sabha 12 December 2012.

The boiler problem was the latest in a string of hold-ups in the refit of the ship, in a defense deal that has gone way over budget and repeatedly delayed. The refit of the ship lurched from one crisis to another. India and Russia signed a $947 million dollar deal in 2005 for the purchase of the carrier, formerly the Russian Navy's Admiral Gorshkov, but delivery had already been delayed twice, pushing up the cost of refurbishing the carrier to $2.3 billion.

During this period the Indian navy had only one operational aircraft carrier, the INS Viraat, which was to be phased out. It was also building one locally, and planning to build at least one locally. Moscow accounts for 70 percent of Indian arms supplies, but late deliveries and commercial disagreements led New Delhi to use other suppliers such as Israel, Britain, France and the United States.

The boiler problems were fixed by Russian shipbuilders in February 2013. The ex-Gorshkov successfully passed engine tests during the first stage of final sea trials in the White Sea, shipbuilder Sevmash said 30 July 2013. These trials focused on the ship's propulsion system and its ability to perform as required. The carrier, named Vikramaditya, “showed excellent performance while being tested at various speeds,” a Sevmash spokesman said. “On Sunday, the ship attained a maximum speed of 29.2 knots.”

The warship would come without a key air defence weapon for which it may have to wait for another three years. The delay in getting the air defence Long Range Surface-to-Air Missile or LR-SAM was at the Indian end. LR-SAM is a defence mechanism to intercept an incoming enemy missile and aircraft that could pose a threat to an aircraft carrier, developed jointly with Israe. But by mid-2013 the project faced schedule delays. The LR-SAM was originally scheduled for operationalising by 2011.

For all the debates over its price, utility and delay in induction, aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya is sure to serve the Navy for at least 30 years, says a senior technical officer of the Navy. “The entry of the Vikramaditya marks a paradigm shift, as it heralds a new era in carrier operations in the Indian Navy. The way it has been rebuilt and equipped with advanced systems and machinery will ensure that it plods on for another 30 to 40 years,” Rear Admiral S. Madhusudanan, Admiral Superintendent of the Naval Ship Repair Yard (NSRY) in Kochi, told The Hindu in a report published August 7, 2013.

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Page last modified: 16-01-2014 19:32:58 ZULU