Indian Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, formally dedicated the Indian Navy’s new aircraft carrier, the INS Vikramaditya (R 33) on June 14. It comes a month after Navy chief Admiral Robin Dhowan declared the carrier “now operationally deployable with MiG-29K aircraft embarked and being flown by Indian Navy pilots.” The PM joined the carrier at sea off Goa, operating alongside ten other ships of the Navy’s Western Fleet.
The Vikramaditya (formerly the Russian Navy’s Admiral Gorshkov) had been commissioned into the Indian Navy on November 16, 2013, in Severodvinsk, Russia. The ship then sailed for India, arriving at its home port of Karwar on January 7, 2014. The first of its complement of MiG-29K fighters to landed on the carrier flown by an Indian Navy pilot on February 8, 2014.
Although the Vikramaditya’s total air wing complement is planned to be 16 MiG-29Ks (including four two-seat MiG-29KUB trainers) and six Ka-31 AEW&C and Ka-28 ASW helicopters, at present only a handful of MiG-29Ks appear to be operating from the carrier. On June 16, 2014, it was reported that the HAL Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter is being considered for the anti-submarine warfare (ASW) role. Defence officials stated that some ASW equipment developed by India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has been tested on the Dhruv at Vishakhapatnam and further trials are planned before a decision is taken on its deployment at sea.
The plans to deploy the Dhruv stem from problems with availability of the Navy’s Ka-28s. Of the ten still remaining in the inventory, six have been mothballed for spares, leaving only four operational, according to local media reports in April 2014. This is insufficient to meet requirements, with the type being needed for training and also for deployment aboard five Rajput-class destroyers and the carrier as well.
A programme to undertake a mid-life upgrade on the ten surviving Ka-28s and give them modern sensors got under way in 2008, but it was not until 2012 that offers were finally submitted. A joint proposal by Rosoboronexport and Finmeccania, which involved installing Western sensors in the Ka-28s, was selected as the preferred bid. However, Finmeccanica’s involvement in the Indian Air Force VVIP AW101 scandal appears to have delayed finalisation of a deal. Despite approvals from both the Cabinet Committee on Security and Central Bureau of Investigation, no contract to upgrade the Ka-28s has yet been signed.