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The view of the Vikramaditya
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
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
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
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
The Vikramaditya has nine decks below the
waterline and 13 decks above it (with the
superstructure counted in).
MiG-29K serves as a mockup
on the carrier’s deck
Credit: V Karnazov
APDR Dec 2011.indd 47
11/01/12 6:04 PM
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