In 1950, the Indian Government and Navy had a choice of either becoming an area denial navy or a sea control navy. They chose the latter, thus the Indian navy has always had an aircraft carrier since 1961. This legacy began with INS Vikrant which by the way helped in increasing the number of countries in 1971 and has been continued in today’s date by the flagship of Indian Navy INS Vikramaditya (Brave as the sun). Vikramaditya started its life in 1987 as a heavy aircraft cruiser named Baku with the Soviet Navy and was renamed Admiral Groshkov when it was transferred to the Russian Navy in 1991. The post-cold war budget constraints resulted in its decommissioning in 1996, and the ship was put on sale. On 20 January 2004, after years of negotiations, Russia and India signed a deal for the sale of the ship and the ship was finally commissioned in the Indian Navy in 2013.
As mentioned above Admiral Groshkov was a heavy aircraft cruiser which means a battel cruiser which can act as a helicopter carrier, thus modifications were needed to make it an aircraft carrier. The journey of this modification was not easy, in fact it was terrible. According to the dealers, the ship would be free, while India would pay US$800 million for upgrade and refit of the ship, as well as an additional US$1 billion for the aircraft and weapons systems. But it was just the tip of the iceberg as it was followed by long delays and cost overruns. In December 2009, it was reported that India had agreed to pay a price of US$2.3 billion and finally in 2013 INS Vikramaditya got commissioned in the Indian Navy.
The pride of any aircraft carrier is its air wing and in this case, the air wing packs some serious punch. It is capable of carrying 26 Mig 29K along with 10 helicopters (Kamov ka-31 (AEW&C), Kamov ka-28 (ASW), Westland Seeking, HAL ALH Dhruv and HAL Chetak). Mig 29K is a 4.5 generation twin-engine medium weight swing-role aircraft and there is no doubt about its capabilities but there are some serious concerns about its availability, airborne early warning, and control is done by Ka-31 helicopter. There is a 14.3-degree ski-jump at the front for take-off and three 30 m wide arresting wire at the back for landing. One of the most prominent equipment fitted on the superstructure is the Resistor-E radar complex. Resistor-E is the automated system designed for providing air traffic control, approach/landing, and short-range navigation for ship borne aircraft.
This complex along with its various sub-systems provides navigation and flight data to ship-borne aircraft operating at extended ranges from the mother ship. The precision approach guidance system aids the fighters on approach to be directed down to a distance of 30 meters short of the flight deck. Vikramaditya also boasts of a very modern communication complex, CCS MK II, to meet her external communication requirement. Installation of the Link II tactical data system allows her to be fully integrated with the Indian Navy’s network-centric operations.
Vikramaditya, the floating airfield has an overall length of about 284 meters, a maximum beam of about 60 meters, stretching as much as three football fields put together. Standing about 20 storeys tall from keel to the highest point, the sheer sight of this 44,500 tonnes mega structure of steel is awe inspiring. The ship has a total of 22 decks. With over 1,600 personnel on board, Vikramaditya is literally a ‘Floating City’. Associated with this large population is a mammoth logistics requirement – nearly a lakh of eggs, 20,000 litres of milk and 16 tonnes of rice per month. With her complete stock of provisions, she is capable of sustaining herself at sea for a period of about 45 days. She is capable of operations up to a range of over 7,000 nautical miles or 13000 km.
To enable this 44,500 tonnes floating steel city to cut through the choppy seas with speeds of up to 30 knots, she is powered by eight new generation boilers at a very high pressure of 64 bars, generating a total output power of 180,000 SHP. Vikramaditya heralds in a new generation of boiler technology with a very high level of automation. These high pressure and highly efficient boilers power four enormous propellers, each greater in diameter than twice the height of an average male. Such a four propeller – four shaft configuration is another first in the Indian Navy. The six turbo-alternators and six diesel alternators onboard generate total electricity of 18 megawatts to power various equipment of the ship, enough to cater to the lighting requirement of a mini-city. The ship also houses two reverse osmosis plants providing an uninterrupted supply of 400 Tons per day of freshwater.
Although an aircraft carrier itself never takes part in actual combat still it has some defensive weapon systems onboard for the worst-case scenario. Combat is done by the air wing onboard and other warships in the carrier battlegroup. In the case of Vikramaditya, we have four AK-630 close-in weapon systems, Barak-1 short-range surface to air missile systems, and Barak-8 long-range surface to air missile systems. The carrier battle group consists of Kolkata class destroyers, Shivalik and Talwar class frigates, Kamorta class anti-submarine warfare corvette, tankers, and submarine.