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Indian Naval Aviation: Waiting for Gorshkov … and the IAC

After a four year delay, Sevmash was on track to deliver the Vikramaditya by Dec. 4, 2012, until boiler problems cut short full power trials in late September 2012, and the ship was docked for lengthy repairs, another setback for Indian naval aviation. Vikramaditya had reached a top speed of 27.8 knots, considerably below the target of 29 knots, but well above the 22 knot minimum speed required for launching aircraft. As Norman Friedman reported, the problem was that the boilers, wrapped with a new, non-asbestos-based insulation, could not reach the temperatures necessary to deliver peak power.

MiG-29KUB traps

A MiG-29KUB traps aboard Vikramaditya during trials. RAC MiGAvia photo

Nevertheless,  a substantial volume of sea and aviation trials were completed during the 108 days the ship spent at sea from 8th June 2012 to 23rd September 2012 with a mixed crew of 2,000 Russians and 287 Indians.

“The complexity of the project and this being the first ship of its kind being built in India has led to timelines being extended,” admitted India’s Defence Minister AK Anthony to the Indian Parliament in August 2012.

In July 2013, Sevmash reported that further sea trials had been successfully completed, with the boilers repaired and the ship achieving 32 knots. The final phase of aviation trials, including night flying certification, is to be run in August. Delivery is currently planned for Nov. 15, 2013, with the ship expected to reach India in early 2014.

MiG-29KUB Vikramaditya

A MiG-29KUB folds its wings as it taxis back to the stern of the ship during trials. RAC MiGAvia photo

Russian sources report that some 218 sorties were flown by various deck based and land based aircraft during earlier aviation trials lasting around two months. This included 41 takeoffs and landings besides numerous touch-and-go landings by two MiG-29s – a K and a KUB variant – flown by Russian test pilots. Helicopter compatibility trials using Ka-28 and Ka-31 as well as overflights by Russian Air Force MiG-31 fighters and Beriev A-50 AWACS aircraft for testing shipboard sensors and communications systems were also performed.

 

Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC) Hobbled by Project Complexity, Supply Chain Issues

Running about 5 years behind schedule, the IAC-1 is slated for launching on Aug. 12, 2013. Delivery is tentatively planned for 2018, although this is by no means certain. 2020 or even 2022 is a more likely date.

IAC-1 at Kochi after floatout

The partially completed hull of IAC-1 seen after its “float out” from the building dry dock at Cochin Shipyard Ltd (CSL) in December 2011. The hull was placed back in its building dock in early 2013 ahead of a formal launching ceremony planned for Aug. 12, 2013. Planned delivery is to be in January 2018, according to CSL. Indian internet

“The complexity of the project and this being the first ship of its kind being built in India has led to timelines being extended,” admitted India’s Defence Minister AK Anthony to the Indian Parliament in August 2012. He said that supply chain issues like the lack of suitable DMR 248 shipbuilding steel from Indian sources and delays with pre-launch equipment like Wartsila generators and Renk/Elecon gearboxes have also contributed to the delays. Cochin Shipyard, too, has had difficulty in absorbing transfer of technology (ToT) in a timely manner. Overall, poor risk mitigation strategies and crucially, a lack of accountability, have hobbled this prestigious project.

After operating the BAE FRS.51 Sea Harrier “jump jet” – known as “Shars” – for some 26 years, the bespoke Mig-29K fighter entered service in late 2009, thus marking a return to “tail hooking”  in the IN decades after the decommissioning of the Hawker Seahawk fighters in the early 80’s.

In the interim, the IN plans on keeping the elderly Viraat in service until 2017 or so to maintain a two carrier capability.

The IN also plans on inducting four to six large amphibious warfare ships  – very likely “flat tops” like the French Mistral – within the next decade or so, although a decision is yet to be announced.

 

Indian Naval Aviation Returns to Tail Hooking

After operating the BAE FRS.51 Sea Harrier “jump jet” – known as “SHAR” – for some 26 years, the bespoke Mig-29K fighter entered service in late 2009, thus marking a return to “tail hooking”  in the IN decades after the decommissioning of the Hawker Seahawk fighters in the early 80’s.

MiG-29KUB touch and go

An Indian Navy MiG-29KUB approaches Vikramaditya for a touch and go landing during trials in late 2012. RAC MiGAvia photo

Some 45 MiG aircraft – 37 single seater Ks and 8 two seater KUBs – are to be delivered by 2015. More than twenty had been delivered as of May 2013.

The Sea Harriers gained new “teeth” with the LUSH program under Project Tiger. The key  addition was the integration of the beyond visual range (BVR) Derby air to air missile, with a range in excess of 35 kilometers (and Python short range missiles as well) along with the associated Elta EL/M-2032 multimode fire control radar. Equally important was a cooperative engagement capability (using data-links). Other changes focused on new avionics, electronic warfare (EW) systems and inflight refueling capability, which has increased endurance to more than six hours and operating range to “more than double its normal range” according to the commanding officer (CO) of INAS 300, Cmdr. Shiraz Azad. These improvements, says Azad, will keep the fighter relevant for several more years.

Getting the Mig-29Ks fully operational and integrated into fleet operations took longer than expected because the IN is the first operator of the type. Indian naval aviators had to validate every weapon system and evolve the tactics, techniques & procedures (TTPs, with help from Indian Air Force pilots on deputation to the unit). Notably, in late December 2012, a MiG-29K successfully conducted the first launch of the Kh-35E anti-ship active radar homing missile on a waterborne target in deliberately difficult launch conditions – an aspect angle of about 70 degrees and a range of over 85 kilometers – the pilot using the plane’s Zhuk-ME (FGM-129) fire control radar to good effect in designating the target.

MiG-29KUB launch

A MiG-29KUB launches from Vikramaditya’s “ski jump” bow. RAC MiGAvia photo

Additionally, in April 2013, the IN issued a Request for Information (RfI) for laser guided bombs and associated designators for MiG-29K aircraft, possibly suggesting an intention to integrate Western origin weapons onto this platform.

 

SHARs Remain in Play

The FRS.51 Sea Harrier was the Indian Navy’s primary fighter until the arrival of the MiGs. Of 23 FRS. 51 fighters acquired, only 8 fighters remain in service, albeit in the upgraded version known as LUSH (Limited Upgrade Sea Harrier). There are also three trainers (of six acquired) in service. Both types will remain in service with INAS 300 “White Tigers” and the Sea Harrier Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) – INAS 552 “Braves” until the Viraat is decommissioned around 2017 or so.

Sea Harrier FRS.51 LUSH

A Sea Harrier FRS.51 LUSH lands aboard Viraat during TROPEX 2012. Indian Navy photo

The Sea Harriers gained new “teeth” with the LUSH program under Project Tiger. The key  addition was the integration of the beyond visual range (BVR) Derby air to air missile, with a range in excess of 35 kilometers (and Python short range missiles as well) along with the associated Elta EL/M-2032 multimode fire control radar. Equally important was a cooperative engagement capability (using data-links). Other changes focused on new avionics, electronic warfare (EW) systems and inflight refueling capability, which has increased endurance to more than six hours and operating range to “more than double its normal range” according to the commanding officer (CO) of INAS 300, Cmdr. Shiraz Azad. These improvements, says Azad, will keep the fighter relevant for several more years.

The IN’s three fighter squadrons – INAS 300, 303 and 552 – are all based at NAS Hansa at Dabolim, Goa on India’s western seaboard. A second MiG-29K squadron is to be formed at NAS Dega on India’s eastern seaboard within four years.