India’s new flagship: Russia hands over modernized aircraft carrier to New Delhi
Russian deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin and Indian Defense
Minister AK Antony attended the handing over ceremony at the
Sevmash shipyard of the northern Arctic port city, along with
other senior government and naval officials of the two countries.
During the ceremony, a Russian flag on the vessel was lowered, and the flag of the Indian Navy was raised in its place. This was followed by a traditional Indian ritual, in which a coconut was smashed against the ship’s side. The ship’s new captain, Suraj Berry, and the deputy director of Russia’s arms export agency Rosoboronexport, Igor Sevastyanov, signed the final handover papers.
Rogozin called the carrier “a mighty contribution to security
of India,” adding that India remains a privileged strategic
partner of Russia. The ceremony comes just two days ahead of the
meeting of the Indo-Russian Inter-Governmental Commission on
Originally commissioned in 1987 as a Soviet Kiev-class aircraft
carrier, the ship was deemed too costly for the Russian military
budget and was deactivated in 1996. The aircraft carrier - then
called ‘Admiral Gorshkov’ - caught India’s attention, and,
following years of talks, a Russian-Indian deal for the ship was
In order to match the demands of the Indian Navy, the carrier had to be fully modernized and converted from a hybrid carrier/cruiser to a pure carrier with a ski-jump ramp to fit multirole MiG-29K (Fulcrum-D) fighters.
The refurbishment work, which eventually saw over 70 percent of the ship and equipment replaced, was overshadowed by several delays and cost increases, leading to a diplomatic exchange and tightening of supervision. It became apparent in the process that the Russian shipbuilders underestimated the cabling work costs, and the initial $974 million price tag grew to about $2.35 billion. Some construction flaws also had to be fixed following the 2012 tests.
The purchase of INS Vikramaditya has been crucial for the Indian
Navy, as its British-made INS Viraat, originally commissioned by
the UK’s Royal Navy in 1959 as HMS Hermes, has been scheduled for
retirement. India’s first indigenous Vikrant-class aircraft
carrier has also been experiencing delays. It was launched two years behind schedule in August, with
the expected service entry date being 2018.
Now that Vikramaditya is set to be escorted from Russia’s north to the Indian Ocean, India becomes one of the few nations in the world to have more than one aircraft carrier in service - the others being the US, the UK, and Italy. With two ships of that class, India will have the capability to promptly project force on both sides of the Hindustan Peninsula in the increasingly militarized region. Previously, India’s retired carrier INS Vikrant played a key role in enforcing the naval blockade on East Pakistan during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971.
As for Russia, which currently has one aircraft carrier (Admiral
Kuznetsov), it has “no need for [another] ship of the same
class,” Rogozin said on Saturday. Calling the fact of having
more aircraft carriers “a geopolitical issue,” the Russian
deputy prime minister stressed it is “not the issue of the
country’s defense capability.” Meanwhile, Russia awaits the
delivery of two Mistral-class helicopter carriers from France.
The new Indian flagship was redesigned by Russian shipbuilders to carry 16 MiG-29K fighters and up to 10 Ka-27 and Ka-31 helicopter gunships. With the ship’s length being 284 meters and her beam nearly 60 meters, INS Vikramaditya stretches to an area as large as three football fields and has 22 decks for housing more than 1,600 crew members. It has been estimated that the ship can operate up to 45 days without replenishment, while having the capability to cover 1,400 kilometers a day and maintaining a “surveillance bubble” of a 500 kilometer radius.