Sunday, May 11, 2014

India's new aircraft carrier now operational

(New Delhi) During the cold war, the Russians decided that they needed to emulate the West in having aircraft carriers which could be used for power projection, so as to further the communist cause. However, rather than copy the large carriers in use by France, UK and America, they decided to hedge their bets by building a hybrid between a heavy cruiser and an aircraft carrier. These bastard children were known as the Kiev-class, and while they did give the Russians an aircraft carrier of sorts, they simply didn't have the presence of the pure aircraft carrier. After building only 4, the Russians got rid of 2 to China, 1 to India and scrapped the other. The Chinese quickly worked out these were no use to man or beast and turned them into floating museums.

Russian carrier Baku
India, on the other hand, decided to strip theirs (Baku) back to the bone and rebuild it as a pure aircraft carrier, and after 10 years doing just that, the now named INS Vikramaditya was commissioned last November into the Indian Navy. Well, this month she has commenced operational duties off the coast of Goa, and what a wonderful job the Indians have done. They have stripped out all the hardware from the front of the ship and replaced it with a flight deck.

The ship is operated in a Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery configuration, with a bow ski-jump ramp and three arresting wires on the stern of the angled deck. The ship can carry more than 30 aircraft, with an air wing comprised of MiG-29K/Sea Harrier fixed wing aircraft and Kamov-31, Kamov-28, Sea King, HAL-Dhruv and Chetak helicopters.

The MiG-29K swing role fighter is the main offensive platform. It has a range of over 700 nautical miles (nm), which can be extended to over 1,900 nm with aerial refueling; and its weapons include anti-ship missiles, beyond-visual-range missiles, guided bombs and rockets. While the Mig-29K is less capable than the more modern Su-33 used by the Russians on their sole aircraft carrier, the choice to stick with the Mig-29 is down to allowing more of the much smaller Migs to be carried. (And there is the recent upgrade of the Mig-29 to Mig-35 status which could impress India somewhat.)

Unusually, the ship has been commissioned without a Close in Weapons System (Anti-Air/Missile system) - in the West we have Phalanx - which in this day and age of capital ships and anti-ship missiles is a must. India has bought the Israeli Barak 8 missile for service with its navy, but it won't be fitted onto the Vikramaditya until 2016 at the earliest. All in all, a wonderful refit, and what a beautiful ship she is.