Vikramaditya – India’s Russian aircraft carrier
Byline: Vladimir Karnazov / Severodvinsk
The Indian Navy through-deck aircraft carrier Vikramaditya (ex-Gorshkov) is 90.5% complete and within a year of commissioning.
A recent visit to Russia’s Sevmash Dockyards in Severodvinsk near the far northern border with Finland, where the new Indian navy carrier is being completed, revealed considerable progress. Since a previous inspection in June 2010, the amount of work completed increased from 68.5% to 90.5%, according the to builders. A critical boost was given last year, when India agreed to pay extra for the refit work and Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev inspected the Vikramaditya and chaired a special governmental session on Indo-Russian military technical cooperation in the naval sphere.
In November 2011 the Vikramaditya was seen moored at Embankment Place 3 (outfitting jetty) with a MiG-29K on its flight-deck (having competed its flying career, the development prototype now serves as a mockup). The huge surface ship dwarfed the Dmitry Donskoi, a Project 941 submarine, moored next to her, despite the fact of the latter’s full displacement is a notable 3,000-tonnes larger that of the carrier.
The Vikramaditya has nine decks below the waterline and 13 decks above it (with the superstructure counted in). The ship has 2,700 rooms and compartments, and so can be likened to a 22-storey building when its height is measured from the keel to the Fregat radar antennae.
Written notices at the Embankment where the ship was berthed advised that the Vikramaditya was powered by ground sources supplying 380-Volt three-phase electrical current and that 105 tons of turbine grease were poured into her. A forty-minute journey through the ship revealed hordes of workers everywhere: welding, cleaning, painting, installing and tuning various equipment items. It was difficult to get through a maze of trunking and cabling, using steep ladders and hatchways, as we climbed from Deck 4 all the way to the radar antennas on top of the superstructure and then descending into the hangar before finally getting back to the Embankment. Our way went through four out of ten ship’s “construction zones”.
Hundreds electronic equipment items were seen on their positions powered up, although many were apparently in the need of fine-tuning. This especially applies to the Operations Room and the Bridge. The hangar, although well lit and painted, contains lots of small construction paraphernalia that must be removed before aircraft arrive in here for storage. Propulsive machinery was being tested at a “moored” mode.
Although the contractual schedule called for sea trials to commence in December, the Indian side has agreed to postpone them until the Spring of 2012 in the view of abnormally bad weather being observed in the area. The main concern was that strong winds and extreme icing conditions in the mouth of the Severnaya Dvina river might cause an earlier closure of the narrow water passage into the White Sea’s expanse.
The builder has promised to complete the application of paint and protective coatings all over the ship and have most of the equipment fine-tuned before sea voyages begin. Should trials complete in time, the Vikramaditya can go into commission as planned on the Indian Navy Day of 4 December 2012.
Originally an aircraft-carrying cruiser known as Project 1143.4, the ‘Baku’ was laid down on 26 December 1978 at the Nikolaev Shipbuilding Plant on the Black Sea coast. Subsequently the breakup of the Soviet Union caused her to be rechristening as the Admiral Gorshkov, since the name of Azerbaijan’s capital was no longer suitable from the viewpoint of national identity and pride.
Public discussions on converting the Gorshkov into a through-deck carrier began shortly after the navy decommissioned her in 1998 – along with three earlier built sister ships Kiev, Minsk and Novorossiysk. Their withdrawal from service had been influenced by Russia’s inability to maintain numerous capital ships inherited from the Soviet Union. Furthermore, the Yakovlev Yak-38 vertical takeoff and landing aircraft on them were by then outclassed by the far more advanced Su-33 (Su-27K) fighter on the Admiral Kuznetsov developed under Project 1143.5, whereas Project 1143.4 cruisers could not accommodate the bigger Sukhois. The Gorshkov arrived at the Sevmash Dockyards in July 1999. The relatively young age of the redundant cruiser made the navy think of ways to rework her for other applications, but the budget did not permit this. Consequently, the ship was offered to India as an alternative to an Invincible-class “Harrier-carrier” available from the UK.
Negotiations progressed slowly until March 2004, when the Kremlin donated the ship “as is” to the Indian navy upon New Delhi’s promise to fund a refit and modernization. Renamed INS Virkamaditya, the cruiser went into dry dock in December 2005. She was re-launched in November 2008 as a Project 11430 aircraft carrier.
The initial contract for the ship’s comprehensive refit and modernization amounted to US $617 million (excluding training and after-sales support). The customer agreed to pay the builder a portion after passing each stage in the mutually agreed program.
A thorough inspection in dry dock revealed that requisite amount of labor hours appeared much higher than earlier expected due to hull and system deterioration. The customer agreed to pay extra, but came up with additional requirements aimed at making the ship more capable and longer-lasting. Most of her pipework and trunking was to be new, as well as cabling. The Indian Navy further asked for additional systems. This added 14 new programs to the refit and modernization process. Subsequently, the rebuilding contract’s value rose to US$ 1.75 billion. With the inclusion of separate contracts for training, ground equipment and shore infrastructure installations, the grand total finally came to US$ 2 billion.
The price-rise was hefty. Sergey Novoselov, deputy general director at Sevmash and the man in charge of the company’s programs with foreign navies, argues that, by his estimates, a newly built ship of the given size and complexity of the Vikramaditya would come to at least US $3 billion. Normally, it takes seven to ten years to build a new carrier. Work on the Vikramaditya began in earnest in 2008, and is already 90% complete, which is a shorter turn around time.
Turning cruisers into carriers is something the Russian shipbuilding industry has never attempted before. Rework includes the installation of a 14-degree sky ramp and fitting three arrestor wires (as opposed to four on the Kuznetsov), to enable operations of the MiG-29K/KUB fighter. Smaller than the Su-33, the MiG better matches the carrier’s size and can be stowed in greater numbers in her hangar: 128m in length, 25m in width and 7m high.
The Nevskoye PKB bureau in St. Petersburg designed all Soviet aircraft-carrying cruisers and developed modernization documentation for the Gorshkov. Yet the gap between the Kuznetsov’s launch in 1985 and re-launch of the Virkamaditya caused a few problems. Regaining once-lost skills proved a painful experience and the work involved altering many newly-made drawings until they were mature enough for dockyard interpretation.
The Nevskoye PKB and Sevmash had never worked together before, and the latter were experiencing difficulties in using the former’s documentation. Specialized in submarines, Sevmash tried to apply their “underwater” technologies to the aircraft carrier whenever possible. For instance, the builder formed a 33-strong team of “space managers” under command of Gennady Petrov, with each manager carrying responsibility for “his” ship compartments. The team has been successful in managing the difficult task of placing new equipment, cables, pipes and hoses in an efficient way throughout the existing hull of the ship built by another dockyard thousands of miles away.
Novoselov recalls that when he accepted the job of supervising the Vikramaditya project at Sevmash, about 700 people worked on the ship, “not many for her size”. After the ship was moved out of the dock and the customer accepted a higher contract value, he was able to increase the labor force up to 4,000. Of those, one thousand specialists came from the Arktika, a neighboring company specializing in cabling and radio electronic equipment installation. “Our own resources were overstretched, so we hired workers and engineers from shipbuilding companies in the Far East, St. Petersburg, Voronezh, Astrakhan, Kaliningrad and other Russian cities. In addition, we hired some people in the Ukraine”, Novoselov says.
To give an idea of the scale of the task, by rough estimates, five nuclear submarines contain onboard equipment similar in total weight and size to that of the Vikramaditya. Sevmash used to make the world’s largest submarines of the Project 941 (Typhoon) each with 48,000-ton full displacement – construction of those underwater giants required a smaller labor force.
Reflecting considerable changes to the original design in the cause of modernization, most of the existing constructions inside the hull had to be removed. Around 500 technological cutaways were made in the hull and the superstructure to get out everything that could be lifted. The hull itself was subjected to thorough cleaning by jets of small particles (grit blasting). The ship’s 116 internal fuel tanks have a capacity of 8,500 tons. Since the Indian navy ships run on diesel, all remaining Furnace Fuel Oil (FFO, a heavy oil mixture) had to be removed. During the several years during which the cruiser remained idle after decommissioned the remaining fuel started to carbonize, which complicated its eventual removal.
Old cabling, totaling 2,400 kilometers, was replaced by brand-new material, with the only exception being an 11 km line of demagnetizing wiring in the fuel and ballast tanks. The flight-deck has received a sky ramp and an extender in the stern, the work being undetaken in a covered workshop. Yet most of the modernization work was done in the open.
In 2008, on the Indian Navy Day of December 4, the ship was towed from the dock to the adjacent harbor and moored at Embankment Place 3 (outfitting jetty). This made it possible to use powerful cranes to load heavy and bulky equipment into the hull, previously carried in via technological cutaways. After placing electrical power generators, boilers, gearboxes and the turbine’s reduction gearing, the cutaways were welded-in. All eight boilers for the main propulsion machinery are new. The Baltic Plant produced one more for the training purposes in its St. Petersburg educational facilities for use by Indian specialists.
The Vikramaditya’s machinery is a mixture of old and new. Some items have been retained from the Gorshkov. However, certain vendor items were purchased new from non-Russian suppliers in accordance with the Indian Navy’s procurement requirements. Lastly, the Nevskoye PKB required installation of additional equipment in order to meet the customer specifications.
During the course of the modernization work Sevmash placed over 800 contracts for vendor items with more than 200 suppliers, including ten Indian companies as well as a number of others from Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Japan, Finland, France, Norway, Poland, Sweden and the UK. The grand total of companies involved in the industrial cooperation on the Vikramaditya exceeded 400.
Indian-made systems include the CCS-MK II for communication, the LINK II for data transfer, the KATC for automatic telephone exchange and DAPS for landing indication, as well as the ALAN P-11430 administrative local network and cable TV. The Macrotech protective coating, interrogators friend-or-foe, transponders, torsion meters, life rafts, pumps, circuit breakers, filters, smoke density indicators, hygiene and galley equipment also come from India.
France supplies Thales telephones and gyrocompasses, the UK adds a cargo transfer system between ships at sea. Six auxiliary diesels come from Wartsila of Finland. Key control and resource management systems are of Russian and Indian origin. Early on, the Indian side considered the Barak-1 short-range antiaircraft system from Israel. The Russians flatly refused to accept such things from a third country on the ground that otherwise they cannot guarantee performance of the ship in wartime.
Firms based in St. Petersburg supply global navigation system receivers using global positioning signals from the GPS and the Glonass satellite constellations, as well core systems for ship controls, data acquisition, processing and management. The Fregat and Podberezovik radars come from Moscow-based Salut Plant. The former (with antennae atop the superstructure) can detect aerial targets at a distance of 250 km, the latter (antennae seen above the flag-deck) at 500 km. The Ladoga navigation system comes from Elektropribor, and lighting equipment, lamps and signal projectors from Saturn – the company, not the planet.
The Resistor and Luna systems helps pilots make flight-deck landings. Its elements are found in the stern, on the superstructure (including that covered by a large protective ring below the Fregat antennae) and on a special mast astern of the superstructure. The Gorshkov had a Resistor and the Vikramaditya features a newer version. The most recent addition is an automated communications channel enabling two-way data exchange between airborne aircraft and the ship. The forward elevator has been retained, while the second one has been enlarged.
As of now, the Vikramaditya does not have missiles or guns. The customer is choosing between the AK630 30-mm six-barrel antiaircraft cannon and the Kashtan combined missile/cannon antiaircraft system. The November inspection of the ship revealed writings “reserved room, Kashtan system” on doors of certain superstructure compartments, which might be a hint. Reserved space should be enough for two or four AA/SAM mountings.
Forty-five officers headed by Captain R. Swaminathan form the core of the Indian navy supervising team. They will live in Severodvinsk with their families until the ship is delivered. The Russian side is contracted to train 1,400 Indian specialists in ship maintenance and servicing. In November, 96 Indian specialists underwent training at Sevmash. They live in Severodvinsk and go to the ship every working day, preparing to serve on her when commissioned.
The first sea voyage shall be conducted by a Russian Navy team headed by Captain Igor Ryabko, formerly Kuznetsov’s deputy commander. The seamen take daily drills on the ship and in dedicated training centers. In February they should start living on the ship, as Russian naval practice requires.
During sea trials, up to 2,700 people are expected onboard, comprising the Russian Navy’s team, their Indian equivalent and a number of industry representatives. To accommodate them, the ship has 328 sea cabins (by that the ship’s developer understands living chambers containing one, two, four or even six beds) and 43 mess-decks (living accommodation for rating). Also, there are three messes (galleys/canteens): wardroom (officers), for midshipmen and for ratings. Most of the living areas are in the nose section with some also near the hangar.
Sea trials will involve a pair of industry-owned MiGs. One is a purposely-built MiG-29K (number 941). The other is a MiG-35D (number 154) land-based twin seat fighter demonstrator now undergoing modifications into a ship-borne version. The decision was influence by the MiG-35 having been screened out of the finals of the MMRCA tender, and the crash of a purposely-built MiG-29KUB (number 951) near the Russian air force firing range in the Akhtuba area during trials. According to Indian media reports, 11 out of 16 MiG-29K/KUB deck fighters on order were delivered between February 2010 and May 2011. They are stationed at the Fleet Air Arm’s base in Goa. Earlier this year India firmed up option for 29 more navalized MiGs.
The Russians will provide a one-year OEM’s guarantee upon the ship’s delivery. After that, the Nevskoye PKB and Sevmash shall assist the Indian navy in keeping the ship seaworthy. Sevmash is going to open an office in India to support these operations. In addition a joint venture (JV) is to be established with an Indian company. It will specialize in servicing the Vikramaditya and, possibly, later extend its competence to other ships, including Project 71 – the Indian ‘Vikrant’ Class. India has plans for three of these “home-grown” carriers similar to the Vikramaditya, albeit having gas-turbines instead of boiler-steam-turbine system.
The Russian navy has plans for a handful of next-generation ships to supplement and then replace the Kuznetsov. Sergey Novoselov also sees an opportunity in Brazil, which apparently has a similar wish-list. India may consider placing new orders with Russian shipbuilders after the Vikramaditya is commissioned. “Sevmash wants to build aircraft carriers”, Novoselov says. In his view, atomic propulsion is the best option for next generation carriers because “nuclear power eliminates the need for fleet oilers to follow a carrier”. The reason for the advocacy of nuclear propulsion is clear: to-date, Sevmash has built 128 nuclear submarines starting with the K-3 commissioned in 1958.
The dockyard had difficult times in 1998-2003 when orders ran low. Yet the company’s management refused massive laid-offs, instead trying to keep workers in place by serving free dinners during working hours to all staff and distributing food to their families. This helped save a core of the enterprise’s competent staff until the financial situation improved. Since 2006, Sevmash has been creating new jobs. Along with undertaking the Gorshkov refit and modernization contact, the enterprise builds Project 955 and Project 885 nuclear submarines for the Russian navy and sea platforms for exploration of oil fields on the Arctic Shelf.
Today, Sevmash directly employs 27,000 people and contracts several thousand more hired elsewhere. The average monthly salary is slightly above US$ 1,000. The management considers this figure as “sufficient” to keep the employees’ families above the poverty line, and strives for pay-rise through more efficient manufacturing and by winning lucrative orders for more submarines and sea platforms.
In November 2011 the Russian MoD awarded Sevmash a bunch of new contracts for Project 955A and 885M submarines as well as support vessels. These shall bring the share of domestic military orders in the company’s portfolio to above 70%. Separately, the dockyard is allocated state funding for technical renovation through special programs by the Ministry of Industry and Trade: Rouble 1.5 billion (roughly US $50 million) in 2011 and Rouble 3.4 billion in 2012.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have been frequent visitors to Severodvinsk, helping the city and local enterprises ease their financial, technological and social problems. To keep in place young college and university graduates, as well as skillful workers and engineers, local authorities help Severodvinsk residents arrange mortgage packages under special government-aided programs.
Another large defense enterprise in Severodvinsk, Zvezdochka, has a long history of relationship with the Indian navy. Specialized in repair and refit of submarines, it has recently overhauled Indian navy Project 877EKM (Kilo class) diesel submarines and outfitted them with the Club-S missile system.
Russia has hopes of selling India more submarines and supporting them through the above-mentioned JV. It may render services to the Indian navy in relation to Project 971 nuclear powered and Project 877EKM diesel submarines, as well as the newer Amur 1650 (a Project 677 export version) on offer in the ongoing Indian tender for ten units. Sergey Novoselov says that the submarine with tactical number K-152 (a Project 971, the Nerpa) is now off Russia’s Pacific Coast, undergoing sea trials before going to the southern waters. He hopes her buyer may look for more, with a rider that follow-on deliveries can be made from Severodvinsk.
SPECIFICATIONS: INS Vikramaditya
Nevskoye PKB: design, modernization documentation
Nikolaev Shipbuilding Plant: construction of heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser
Sevmash: refit and modernization into aircraft carrier
Project 11430 aircraft carrier of STOBAR type
(As Project 1143.4 heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser)
(As Project 1143.4 heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser)
(As through-deck carrier Project 11430)
Expected in December 2012
Standard 34,200 tons
Full 45,300 tons
Overall length 283.5 meters
Maximum breadth 59.6 meters
MAIN PROPULSIVE MACHINERY
Eight boilers, four-shaft geared steam turbines of 180,000 shaft horsepower
MISSILERY AND GUNNERY
None. Space reserved for four mountings of the Kashtan AA/SAM system
Total number 30 (alternatively 34)
MiG-29K/KUB deck fighters
Ka-31 radar picket helicopters
Ka-28 antisubmarine warfare helicopters
Ka-29 search-and-rescue helicopters
Ship crew, persons 1,924
Including 763 with Air Detachment (alternatively 524)