INS Vikramaditya will take to the sea for crucial pre-induction trials on June 8, Russian shipbuilding sources said.
Last month, the trials were put off by two weeks due to bad weather alerts.
However, the delay will not affect the scheduled delivery of the aircraft carrier to the Indian Navy in December, according to the Sevmash shipyard, where the Soviet-era Admiral Gorshkov carrier has undergone modernisation and repairs.
“We are confident that we will hand over the vessel to India on December 4, Navy Day,” said Sevmash Director-General Andrei Dyachkov.
The towering 45,300-tonne, 284 metre-long Vikramaditya stood moored at Sevmash when this writer, first foreign correspondent allowed on board, visited the vessel last week. The ship, rich with the smell of freshly painted walls and equipment, was bustling with pre-trial activity as workers took advantage of the postponement to put finishing touches to the 2,700 compartments of the 60-metre tall carrier.
The Sevmash chief was visibly proud of the work his shipyard did in converting the Gorshkov heavy carrier/cruiser into a full-fledged aircraft carrier.
‘As good as modern vessel'
“Vikramaditya is as good as any new modern-day aircraft carrier,” Mr Dyachkov told The Hindu in his first interview to a foreign newspaper. “Given proper maintenance, it will stay in service for up to 40 years.”
Mr. Dyachkov is aware of bad blood in India over the huge cost escalation but says the price review was inevitable.
“When we opened up the equipment we realised that the scope of work would be far bigger than [what] the original contract envisaged. Most equipment had to be replaced and the ship was completely rewired with 2,400 kilometres of new cables,” he said. “Never before has an aircraft carrier undergone such massive modernisation.”
The Sevmash chief would not discuss the refurbishment cost, but the media usually give $615 million as the initial contract price and $2.2 billion as the final price. However, Russian sources have pointed out that 25 per cent of that sum was the cost of training Indian personnel and building onshore infrastructure in India, and another 10 per cent was for additional systems New Delhi wanted installed when the contract was being renegotiated.
Mr. Dyachkov said Sevmash could have cut the cost by using cheaper materials and equipment but it rejected the option.
“Our top priority was to ensure irreproachable quality, reliability and long service life for the vessel. In fact, the shipyard did not make much profit on this contract, as most of the contract cost went to the suppliers of equipment and systems.”
More than 400 subcontractors were involved in the project, including 10 Indian companies which supplied communication systems, protective coating, a telephone exchange, life rafts, pumps, hygiene and galley equipment, and many more.
Designed to operate only vertical takeoff aircraft, the ship has been extensively remodelled. It has had its flight deck extended and turned into a full runway with a ski jump and arrestor wires. The vessel has new engines, new boilers, new generators, electrical machinery, communication systems and distillation plants.
With INS Vikramaditya overhaul practically over, Sevmash is now focussed on carrying forward cooperation with India in the sphere of aircraft carriers.
“We are in talks with several Indian companies for setting up a joint venture to provide the full range of post-guarantee maintenance and repair services to INS Vikramaditya, including the supply of spares,” said Mr. Dyachkov.
Sevmash, which has built more than 200 submarines and surface ships over its 70-odd years' history, is also keen on taking part in the construction of India's indigenous aircraft carriers.
“We have amassed invaluable experience in decades-long collaboration with Indian shipbuilders, which has been further enriched during the retrofitting of Gorshkov and modernisation of Kilo-class INS submarines,” said Mr. Dyachkov.