Navy set to get its largest aircraft carrier tomorrow

VikramadityaOn board the INS Vikramaditya on Thursday, two days before its induction into the Indian Navy at the Sevmash shipyard in Russia. (IE Photo)

Ending a nine-year wait, aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya will be inducted into the Indian Navy by Defence Minister A K Antony at the Sevmash shipyard in Severodvinsk, Russia on Saturday.

The first aircraft carrier to join the Navy in over two decades, Vikramaditya, the former Gorshkov, will set sail for India after the handing-over ceremony. It is likely to be greeted by a ship that already has a very special place in the Navy. INS Viraat, India's lone aircraft carrier, is said to be heading to Oman to escort the Vikramaditya home.

In a show of strength and capability, the two aircraft carriers are expected to sail together in the Arabian Sea before the Vikramaditya heads for its final berthing place in Karwar. The deployment will be one of the last overseas sailings for INS Viraat that has been in service with the Indian Navy since 1987 and is overdue for retirement, given that the hull is now over five decades old.

For Vikramaditya, the long journey home will be challenging — it will be unarmed, and will sail without weapons or fighter aircraft on board while making the transition from freezing seas to tropical waters. The Navy is planning a five-ship escort.

After it sets sail from Severodvinsk, the Vikramaditya, commanded by Commodore Suraj Berry, will be met by INS Deepak, a tanker ship, near Murmansk. Also tailing the aircraft carrier will be a Talwar-class frigate. Additional ships will join the convoy near Gibraltar. Though the final route home has not been revealed, the ship is likely to use the Suez Canal and will meet the Viraat once it reaches the Oman coast.

The escort is required especially as the route through the Suez will raise serious security issues given the multiple threats that can emerge in the region. The Navy has been tightlipped and has prepared the carrier for a sixty-day sail. This means that a route skirting Africa is also not being ruled out.

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