China, India set course for naval strength
The INS Vikramaditya aircraft carrier (former Admiral Gorshkov), which Russia refurbished for India, left its berth at the Sevmash shipyard in Russia's northern city of Severodvinsk and sailed into the White Sea to undergo trials on June 8.
Refitted Vikramaditya (Admiral Gorshkov) [File photo]
Russian and Indian crews will board the carrier for the sea trials, however Indian sailors will only act as observers.
The Vikramaditya is a modified Kiev-class aircraft carrier which was formally called the "Admiral Gorshkov". The Admiral Gorshkov entered service in 1987 and was sent for repairs in February 1992. However, due mainly to a funding crisis, the Russian navy decided to withdraw it from service.
At the same time, the Indian navy was considering buying a large out-of-service carrier.
Subsequently, in 2004, Russia and India signed a deal for the refurbishment of the Admiral Gorshkov. The carrier itself was free, however India had to get it refitted at the Sevmash shipyard at a cost of US$750 million and buy Russian-made MiG-29K fighters as its carrier drones. The delivery time was originally set for 2008, but due principally to underestimated workload and the shipyard's lack of experience in building and refurbishing aircraft carrier, the delivery time was continually postponed, with costs jumping to more than US$2.3 billion.
According to the requirements of the Indian navy, Russia completely refitted the Admiral Gorshkov. The improvement involved stripping all of the armaments and radar from the foredeck and greatly enlarging the surface of the flight deck. The foredeck was also turned into a ski-jump.
The refitted Vikramaditya will be better equipped than India's current serving carrier. MiG-29K fighters are superior to the old British Sea Harrier fighters, and the carrier's comprehensive fighting force can compare with that of the nuclear-powered French aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle.
India is currently engaging in building up its naval force. It is now in the process of constructing an Air Defense Ship, which is actually an aircraft carrier, as well as three missile-guided destroyers, and three invisible missile frigates. In addition, it has ordered a number of missile frigates from Russia. If all these plans are carried out successfully, India will not only consolidate its dominant position in the Indian Ocean, it will also have one of the world's top five most powerful navies.
The former Soviet Union had the world's second largest navy during the Cold War. However, since the crumbling of the USSR, the Russian navy has been forced to decommission many of its ships due to a lack of funds and broken industrial chain. Russia's naval power cannot really compare with that of the former USSR during the Cold War. Economic woes have prevented Russia from undertaking large-scale shipbuilding to replace those decommissioned ships.