When the Ship Comes in: INS Vikramaditya

INS Vikramaditya
INS Vikramaditya

INS Vikramaditya

INS Vikramaditya (formerly known as the Admiral Gorskhov) is a customized aircraft carrier (Kiev class), with a top speed of 27.9 knots (about 55 kilometer/hr) and a capacity of carrying around 30 different types of aircraft. The aircraft carrier was built at the Sevmash shipyard in Severodvinsk, North Russia in 1987. This vessel, weighing 45,550 tons, was a part of the navy of the erstwhile USSR, and after its disintegration, of the Russian Navy. The vessel was demilitarized in 1996 by the Russian Navy, owing to the fact that the aircraft carrier was proving to be a burden on the tight, post-Cold War funds. In an arms deal with Russia, India purchased the said warship in 2004. The figure decided for the Gorskhov deal was USD 947 million, which was later re-calibrated to USD 2.3 billion. In the meantime, the warship had undergone complete revamping and was subjected to the standard tests for its seaworthiness in the Barents Sea and the White Sea for a trial period of three months, in September 2012. The warship was due to be handed over to India in 2008 but the handover was postponed to December 4, 2012. The tests revealed some technical problems in the boilers, and so the ship was returned to the shipyard for repairs, as a result of which the December 4, 2012 handover date had to be cancelled.

Technical problems detected in INS Vikramaditya during test runs in September 2012

The warship has eight boilers. These are insulated with a special kind of ceramic tiles (firebrick insulation) to maintain the most advantageous temperature inside the boilers, when the ship performs at full power. After the completion of the refurbishment, the warship was subjected to extreme tests in the White Sea and the Barents Sea, emulating wartime conditions. However, it was observed that when the ship reached its maximum speed (close to 30 knots), the firebrick lining inside the boilers was getting disjointed from the insulation. The problem was first spotted by the members of a 500-personnel-strong Indian Navy contingent on board of the warship, during a training exercise program. Once the problem was spotted, the ship was taken back to the shipyard, where the entire firebrick linings were stripped off and replaced with new ones. The technical faults further delayed the delivery of the warship by another year. A senior Navy official, who also confirmed the technical corrections, further informed, “Tests carried out in the dry docks have also been successful”. The warship was subjected to the same tests on July 2013, in the White Sea and the Barents Sea where the vessel proved its commendable seaworthiness beyond doubt.

The entire test procedure was under the supervision of the Indian Navy contingent stationed aboard the warship. Besides, the warship passed the tests of the other aspects, like the sensor system and propulsion system, with flying colors. However, the Sevmash shipyard (where the ship was refurbished), had not communicated to the Indian Navy any reasons regarding the boiler problems. It is to be mentioned here that since INS Vikramaditya is an aircraft carrier, the most important part of it is the flight deck, which is now in excellent condition and fully operational.

Vulnerability of INS Vikramaditya during its long journey from Russia to India owing to the lack of a proper weapons system

As confirmed by a top Navy official, the absence of a proper  air defense system will put the warship in a precarious position during its long journey from Russia to India, leaving it open to aircraft and missile attacks. However, the vice chief of Navy Staff, Vice Admiral R. K. Dhowan, revealed the plans of installing a Close In Weapons System (CIWS), once the ship reaches the Indian shores and has undergone thorough servicing in an Indian shipyard (first refit). The CIWS is the last line of defense against missile and aircraft attacks on warships. While India is having some technical problems regarding the manufacturing license of the A 630 CIWS facilities, there has been no communication from the Navy confirming the installations of a CIWS on board of the warship. Vice chief’s claims that the installation of the CIWS on board of the warship after it has undergone its first refit, seem to be in total contradiction of the 2009 audit report which specifically underlined the unavailability of the CIWS before 2017. Another major source of concern is the fact that the warship is not equipped with a surface-to-air missile facility, which severely jeopardizes the present condition of the ship. A plan of implementing a Long Range Surface-to-Air Missile (LRSAM) facility, in a collaborative effort between the Navy, DRDO and Israel is also being procrastinated and as per the current estimation, such an installation is not viable before 2016.

Advantages of the inclusion of INS Vikramaditya in the Indian Navy

When no other country was prepared to provide India with the aircraft carrier technologies, Russia came forward with the INS Vikramaditya, deal which was finalized in 2004. Unforeseen problems have kept the ship from inclusion into the Indian Navy to date. The Navy has one more aircraft carrier, INS Viraat. With the inclusion of the INS Vikramaditya, the Navy will possess two aircraft carriers, not to mention the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier that will be hopefully joining the Navy by 2018-2019.  The inclusion of INS Vikramaditya in the Navy evidently improves the decisive edge of the Navy in the Indian Ocean and ensures stronger maritime protection. No doubt the warship will be an important military asset for not only the Navy, but also for the Air Force and the Indian Army. The warship is proposed to carry the MiG-29KUB two-seater fighter jet exclusively used by the Navy and armed with KH-35 air-to-air missiles of Russian origin.

Defense Minister AK Anthony’s proposed Russia visit

Defense Minister AK Anthony was due to visit Russia in October, but the visit was cancelled by the ministry and rescheduled to mid-November 2013. As the defense sources revealed, “The defense minister is expected to induct the warship into the Indian Navy during his visit for the Indo-Russian Inter-Governmental Commission for Military and Technical Cooperation meeting now expected to be held in November”. The Russia visit of the defense minister is of primary importance as this visit will review several armament issues, like the proposed purchase of 200 T-90 tanks and the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA), under development in a collaborative effort of Russia and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).


INS Vikramaditya has successfully completed all the trials and proved itself in endurance and accuracy. The Navy has plans of authorising the ship in Russia and to set sail for India by October-November, 2013. Once formally commissioned by the Navy, the warship will sail under the Indian National Flag. The warship is estimated to join active military service by December 2013. A lot of work has to be done, like installing a viable aerial defense system and a long-range weapons system on board. However, there is no doubt that once fully equipped, INS Vikramaditya will prove to be an important asset for the Indian Military and a formidable fighting machine.