Refit of India's Russian aircraft carrier delayed
Dec 15, 2006 - 5:23:14 PM

New Delhi, Dec 15 - The refit of the Indian Navy's Russian aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya has 'dropped behind schedule due to extensive structural work', Britain's leading Jane's Defence Weekly - reports.

According to JDW, Viktor Shestov, deputy director of the Sevmashpredpriyatiye shipyard in Severodvinsk in northern Russia that is refurbishing the 44,500-tonne Kiev-class carrier, declared that the delay was 'linked to the fact that serious faults in some structures were revealed in the course of the final fault detection procedure'.

The Indian Navy, however, claimed it had received assurances from the Russian government that the conversion and commissioning would be completed on schedule in 2008, by which time India's only carrier INS Viraat will be ready for retirement.

INS Vikramaditya is scheduled to enter operational service in 2009 following its final refitting.

It will be berthed at INS Karwar, the navy's new base on the west coast that is still under construction.

Jane's stated that a high level Indian Navy inspection team that recently visited the Sevmashpredpriyatiye shipyard had received guarantees that the carrier would be completed on schedule.

The head of the visiting delegation, Vice Admiral B.S. Randhawa, Controller of Warship Production and Acquisition, asserted that the navy had received a letter from the Russian Federation Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov declaring that the project would be 'completed within the time frame set out in the contract'.

According to the contract for the carrier signed in January 2004, the retrofit was to be completed within 52 months.

Randhawa also declared that the Russian shipyard is 'taking every effort' to resolve any problems arising during the refit.

Damaged by a fire in 1994 soon after its commissioning, the Admiral Gorshkov had been rusting for years till the Indian Navy acquired it two years ago, signing a $625 million contract for its reactivation and modification programme.

This included reconfiguring the carrier, which was formally handed over to the navy in March 2004, for short take-off and arrested recovery aviation operations.

Russia's Nevskoye Planning and Design Bureau is responsible for developing the detailed design and drawings package for the implementation of the conversion, termed the Russian Federation Navy Project 1143.4. The Indian Navy's Naval Design Bureau is also working closely with the Russian shipyard.

Twenty MiG-29Ks, including four trainers, will constitute INS Vikramaditya's air arm.

Meanwhile, construction of the Indian Navy's 37,500-tonne Project 71 aircraft carrier, delayed by over two years, is expected to begin soon at the Cochin Shipyard Limited - using the 'modular' method of building compartment blocks.

'After building some 120 of 800 blocks using the integrated hull outfit and painting - approach we will lay the carrier's keel in 2007. It will be launched by October 2010,' Rear Admiral M.K. Badhwar, the director general naval design who is in-charge of the carrier building programme, declared.

Re-designated the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier - from its original appellation of Air Defence Ship, the vessel's commissioning has been delayed by around two years to 2014 due to steel acquisition problems, Badhwar said.

This difficulty was recently resolved with the import from Russia of around 1,000 tonnes of steel 'bulb-bars' essential to begin the IAC's construction after the state-owned Steel Authority of India - was unable to supply them.

The cutting of steel for the IAC designed by the Naval Design Bureau - began in April 2005, but the project languished thereafter due to the lack of bulb bars, navy officials admitted.

However, they were confident that SAIL and two private and another public sector steel mill who are collectively supplying around 20,000 tonnes of steel for the IAC, would be able to provide the additional 4,000 tonnes of bulb bars required for the 225 metre long and 58 metre wide IAC, for which Rs.32.61 billion - has been sanctioned so far.

Powered by four General Electric LM 2500 gas turbines acquired through Hindustan Aeronautics Limited -, the IAC will operate a mix of 30 combat fighters and helicopters.

Navy officers said these would include 12 MiG-29K multi-role fighters, upgraded Sea Harrier FRS Mk 51s and the locally designed light combat aircraft. Its 10-helicopter compliment will comprise Russian Kamov Ka-31s and the indigenous advanced light helicopter.

Italy's Fincantieri SpA will provide designs to integrate the propulsion system, engine room layouts, and overall validation of systems, besides conducting sea trials. Navy officials said while Fincantieri's technical contract would be for two years, assistance will continue until the IAC's commissioning.

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