Russia: After a delay of five years, the USD 2.3 billion INS Vikramaditya aircraft carrier was on Saturday inducted into the Indian Navy, giving a strategic boost to its maritime warfare capabilities.
The mammoth 44,500-tonne warship - India's largest naval vessel - was commissioned into the navy at Sevmash Shipyard in this northern Arctic port during a colourful ceremony attended by Defence Minister A. K. Antony, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin and senior government and naval officials of the two countries.
Antony expressed his satisfaction at the delivery of the aircraft carrier after years of waiting during an interaction with the Indian media in the hangar under the deck, but conceded there was a time "when we thought that we will never get her".
Speaking during the ceremony held on the flight deck of the refitted vessel, Antony said INS Vikramaditya would significantly enhance the Indian Navy's reach and capability.
Noting that aircraft carriers have been part of the navy’s force structure since independence, he said: "The induction of Vikramaditya, with its integral MiG29K fighters and Kamov-31 helicopters, not only reinforces this central policy but also adds a new dimension to our navy’s operational capabilities."
He added, "This project has been a unique one, challenging both the Russian and Indian sides alike...The successful culmination of (the) project truly symbolises the time-tested special and privileged strategic partnership between our two great nations."
Braving chilling winds and snow on an overcast morning, scores of Russian and Indian dignitaries, including Indian Ambassador Ajai Malhotra, Defence Secretary R K Mathur, Indian Navy chief Admiral D. K. Joshi and his Russian counterpart Admiral Viktor Chirkov, attended the commissioning ceremony.
The transfer deed of the aircraft carrier was signed by Igor Sevastyanov, the deputy director of Russian arms exporter Rosoboronexport, and Captain Suraj Beri, the commanding officer of Vikramaditya. The Russian flag on the vessel was lowered and the flag of the Indian Navy was raised in its place. In a traditional Indian ritual, a coconut was broken against the ship's side.
The warship was first scheduled to be delivered in 2008 but the deadline was repeatedly postponed over the past five years. The carrier will be escorted to India during a nearly two-month voyage by a group of warships to secure a safe sail to its new base at Karwar on the Arabian Sea coast.
Vikramaditya is a Kiev-class aircraft carrier that was commissioned by the Russian Navy in 1987 under the name Baku. It was later renamed Admiral Gorshkov and last sailed in 1995 in Russia, before being offered to India.
The warship with a length of 284 metres will have MiG-29K naval combat aircraft and Kamov 31 and Kamov 28 anti-submarine warfare and maritime surveillance helicopters.
The MiG 29-Ks will provide a significant boost to the Indian Navy with their range of over 700 nautical miles, extendable to more than 1,900 nautical miles with mid-air refuelling, and an array of weapons like anti-ship missiles, beyond visual range air-to-air missiles and guided bombs and rockets.
After almost nine years of negotiations, the initial USD 1.5 billion contract for retrofitting the carrier and buying 16 MiG-29 deck-based fighters was signed in 2004. The delays in the delivery of the aircraft carrier had become a major irritant in Indo-Russian relations.
By the end of 2007, when it became clear that Russia would not deliver the radically redesigned vessel by the 2008 deadline, ties dipped to an all-time low. However, the two countries inked an additional agreement under which India agreed to pay a higher price for its refit.
After the commissioning of the Vikramaditya, Antony left Severodvinsk for Moscow in a special aircraft to attend the 13th session of the India-Russia defence working group. Referring to his upcoming meeting with Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu at the India-Russia Intergovernmental Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation in Moscow on Monday, Antony told PTI, "Our defence cooperation is not limited to (Vikramaditya). We have many other ongoing projects."
He declined to comment on media reports about India's plans to lease a second nuclear-powered submarine from Russia in the wake of the accident involving the INS Sindhurakshak submarine in August.
"We have many ongoing projects and issues which I am not going to discuss with you here," Antony replied curtly to a question about the reported plans to lease a nuclear vessel. INS Chakra, an Akula-class nuclear submarine leased from Russia, was inducted in the Indian Navy last year.
Speaking at the commissioning ceremony, Indian Navy chief Admiral D K Joshi said the Vikramaditya will bridge the time gap that may come up between the phasing out of the INS Viraat aircraft carrier and the commissioning of the indigenously built Vikrant.
Vikramaditya will also help achieve India's medium term goal of operating two aircraft carriers, he said. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Rogozin, who is co-chairman of the bilateral inter-governmental commission on trade and economic cooperation, underscored that Russia wants to see a strong India and a mighty aircraft carrier like the Vikramaditya will cause "anxiety and awe" among its ill-wishers in the region.
Konstantin Makienko, deputy director of the Moscow-based Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies – an independent think-tank studying the global military-industrial complex, pointed out that Vikramaditya is the "biggest ever naval ship exported by any country".
Makienko, who was present at the commissioning ceremony in Sevmash Shipyard, which retrofitted and modernised the Gorshkov into a normal aircraft carrier, noted that the facility had basically produced a range of strategic nuclear submarines since the Soviet era.
"Allowing India naval personnel into this highly restricted area, where even Russian citizens have to obtain a permit from the FSB security agency months in advance to enter, is proof of the highest level of trust our two countries have," he said....