The long-delayed program to retrofit the Indian Navy’s Vikramaditya (formerly the Russian Navy’s Admiral Gorshkov) Kiev-class aircraft carrier is finally nearing completion. According to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, the ship "will leave our waters and head for India on November 30". The handover ceremony took place in Severodvinsk, where the Vikramaditya was overhauled, on November 16.
The program to repair and upgrade the Vikramaditya has been on at the Sevmash wharf since 2004. The carrier was given to the Indian Navy free of charge, but the cost of its refurbishment — initially estimated at $800 million – eventually reached $2.3 billion. The modernization effort included the removal of all weaponry from the ship’s foredeck, which was then extended and fitted with a received a ski-jump ramp for MiG-29K STOBAR capability. The Russian shipbuilder de-facto created a new ship, as the Vikramaditya also received advanced navigation and radar systems, as well as new aviation control and communications equipment.
The refurbished ship’s displacement will exceed 45,000 tons. With a length of 283 m and a width of 59.8 m, the carrier can accommodate a 1,924-strong crew, as well as 24 MiG-29K fighters and six helicopters.
India in 2004 ordered 16 MiG-29K/KUB fighters from Russia, including 12 single-seaters and four twin-seaters. This deal, valued at $730 million, was followed in 2010 by a $1.2 billion contract for 29 more of the type.
The MiG-29K is a profoundly modernized version of the Soviet-era fighter of the same designation. The current variant has an upgraded airframe with extensive use degree of composites, a digital fly-by-wire system, in-flight refueling capability and new avionics, including a full glass cockpit and a Zhuk-ME slot array radar. The MiG-29K features reduced radar signature and can carry greater weapons loads, which include air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions.
Flight testing of the MiG-29K version for the Indian Navy started in 2007 and was completed two years later with a test landing on the Russian Navy Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier. Deliveries started in 2009; the type was officially put into service with the Indian Navy in February 2010. In May this year, the Indian Navy commissioned its first MiG-29K squadron at Hansa naval air station in Goa. At present the Indians operates about two dozen of these fighters.
The Vikramaditya was initially expected to be handed over to the customer in December 2012. The delivery date slipped one year after the ship suffered a malfunction in the steam boilers of its propulsion system during sea trials in summer 2012.
A new round of trials in Russia’s White and Barents seas was completed this September. According to Sevmash, the ship reached a maximum speed of 29.2 knots up on the design speed of 29 knots, proving the reliability of its powerplants. In the course of the trials MiG-29K fighters performed 57 test flights from the Vikramaditya with 47 subsequent landings on the carrier’s deck, including 12 night-time take-off and landings. Kamov Ka-31R and Ka-27PL coaxial-rotor helicopters flew 30 sorties. Sevmash representatives say that since the beginning of the sea-trial phase in June 2012, the Vikramaditya has spent 108 days at sea, covering 12,650 nautical miles.
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