On the eve of the 2009 general election, Defence Minister A K Antony laid the keel of the 37,500-tonne aircraft carrier Vikrant, promising its completion in the next five years. The promise remains unfulfilled.
Months before the 2014 general election, Antony claimed to deliver the ship to the Navy in another five years.
Though the shipyard and naval engineers hope to meet the deadline, the ship’s most potent weapon—a fleet of Russian-origin MiG 29K fighters—will still not be integrated and the indigenous carrier, the Vikrant, will not be battle-ready when the Navy receives it by 2018.
On-board trial of these fighters, parked at a naval air station in Goa at present, will begin only after the Vikrant is handed over to the Navy. Till then, they will fly from a shore-based testing facility in Goa, which is a replica of the take-off ramp of the carrier, made of extremely high-strength steel. The shore-based testing facility, located on the edge of a cliff inside the naval base, will give fighter pilots the most realistic experience of flying from the decks of the INS Vikrant.
The facility will have three arrester wires, similar to what has been planned for the actual ship. The machinery and engines for the facility have arrived and will be installed after monsoon. The pilots can fly from the facility from 2014.
The arrester wires will bring back a technology which the Navy did not use in the last 25 years. The Navy's first carrier, the INS Vikrant, which joined service in 1961, had a similar technology. The second Indian aircraft carrier, INS Viraat, which the Navy uses at present, follows a different technology for take-off and landing of Sea Harrier jump jets.
Over the next three years, the entire superstructure of Vikrant, including the landing deck and the arrester wires, will be put in place so that extensive sea trials can be conducted in 2017-18, before the ship is handed over to the Navy. “The aviation trials, however, will take place only after the ship is delivered to us,” said a senior Navy officer.
* India is the fifth nation to build an aircraft carrier
* Only USA, UK, Russia and France have done it
* Vikrant is the largest warship ever built in India
* The flight deck covers two football fields
* It has 24 MW of power generators that can light the entire Kochi city
* 2700 km of cabling, which end-to-end would stretch from Kochi to Delhi
* Vikrant would have 1600 personnel
* It would operate MiG-29K fighters and Ka-31 choppers
* India develops high-strength steel for the aircraft carrier