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India to get revamped aircraft carrier from Russia (Part 1)

MOSCOW. (Viktor Litovkin for RIA Novosti) - In early May, an Indian naval delegation headed by Vice Admiral Birinder Singh Randhawa, Controller of Warship Production and Acquisition at the Integrated Headquarters, Ministry of Defense (Navy), visited Severodvinsk, a major submarine construction centre in the Arkhangelsk Region, northern Russia.

In spite of cold temperatures, piercing winds and snowfalls, the visit proved very fruitful. The delegation visited the local Northern Engineering Works (Sevmashpredpriatiye) and inspected the Mk 1143.4 Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier, now being refitted under a bilateral contract. The aircraft carrier, due to be renamed the Vikramaditya after a famous Indian general, is expected to enter service with the Indian Navy in August 2008.

Vice Admiral Randhawa was very pleased with the visit's results and noted many changes in the warship's upper-deck structures and interior. Although the Admiral Gorshkov's modernisation is somewhat behind schedule, Mr. Randhawa said this extremely difficult project would face problems from time to time. But he said he saw that Sevmashpredpriatiye was doing its best to solve them in time.

What is the Admiral Gorshkov?

On December 26, 1978, the keel of the Mk 1143.4 Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier was laid at the Nikolayev shipyard in Ukraine. The 273-meter long warship displaces 48,500 tons, has a beam of 49 meters and a 10.2-meter draught. The Admiral Gorshkov, which can cruise along at 30.7 knots, has a 30-day sea endurance and a 1,610-man crew.

She entered service with the Soviet Navy in December 1987 and was assigned the task of guarding strategic missile submarines. For that purpose, the Admiral Gorshkov operated 14 Yakovlev Yak-141 Freestyle vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) fighters, eight Yak-38 Forger VTOL fighters, as well as 16 Kamov Ka-25 and Ka-252RLD Hormone and Ka-252PS Helix anti-submarine warfare (ASW), reconnaissance and search-and-rescue helicopters.

Moreover, the aircraft carrier, which supported warship formations and naval strategic bombers in combat areas, was supposed to attack enemy aircraft, warships and submarines. For this purpose the Admiral Gorshkov had 12 Bazalt anti-ship missile launchers, six ten-tube Udav-1 anti-submarine rocket mortars, four torpedo tubes, as well as four Klinok air-defense systems comprising 24 launchers, two 100-mm AK-100 guns and eight 30-mm AK-630 anti-aircraft guns.

However, it turned out that VTOL fighters did not correspond to specifications, carried small ordnance loads, had a short combat range and crashed rather often. The disintegration of the Soviet Union and subsequent financial shortages made it impossible to eliminate these drawbacks. These warplanes were scrapped, and the Admiral Gorshkov had to be berthed.

The warship could have suffered the same sorry fate as her sister ships, namely, the Kiev, the Minsk and the Novorossiisk, that also carried Yakovlev fighters, and which were eventually sold for scrap. However, the Indian Navy took an interest in the Admiral Gorshkov and therefore prevented her destruction.

Moscow and New Delhi negotiated the carrier modernization contract for many years. The Indian side insisted that Russia charge less for overhauling the Admiral Gorshkov. According to some rumors, the warship was sold to India as scrap metal, that is, for $150-$200 per tons. Moreover, New Delhi insisted that the Russian carrier be upgraded in order to accommodate horizontal take-off and landing fighters, and that its arsenal should include weapons popular with the Indian Navy. Moscow accepted all these proposals.

The $1.5 billion Gorshkov modernization contract was signed in 2004. The total overhaul expenses amounted to $600-700 million. The rest will be spent on deck fighters, equipment and weapons from third parties. The Nevskoye Design Bureau in St. Petersburg, which had developed the Admiral Gorshkov, submitted the modernization project. The warship is being overhauled at Sevmashpredpriyatiye in Severodvinsk.

All redundant artillery systems and missiles, including Bazalt launchers and AK-100 guns, will be removed during the project's initial stage. All other weapons, namely, Klinok air-defense systems, AK-630 anti-aircraft guns, and most radio-electronics and specialized equipment will also have to go.

Instead the Admiral Gorshkov is to receive new-generation air-defense systems, whose specifications are not known yet. The initial modernization stage will end after obsolete machinery is replaced with up-to-date equivalents. After that, New Delhi will become the ship's legal owner.

During the second stage, India will list all the required weapons and equipment for the Vikramaditya. Her upper deck will be extended until the bow section, and a 14-degree 20-meter-wide ramp will be constructed there.

The 280-meter flight deck will have a 198-meter runway for operating Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29-K Fulcrum supersonic fighters chosen by India.

The 24-meter-wide runway will feature three arrester wires, and there will also be a 130 by 23 by 5.7-meter hangar below the deck. The hangar will have a 30-ton 18.91 by 9.96-meter lift located amidships left of the island superstructure and a 20-ton 18.91 by 8.65-meter lift behind the superstructure and in front of the arrester wires. The top-deck aircraft parking area will measure 2,400 square meters. The Vikramaditya will therefore become one of the best aircraft carriers in her class.

Viktor Litovkin, deputy editor in chief, Nezavisimoye Voennoye Obozreniye, a weekly supplement to Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

The continuation of the article will be posted soon.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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