Indian Navy tests out new trump card
The heavy airborne cruiser Admiral Gorshkov, built in Nikolaev as part of Project 1143, was the fourth and last Kiev class ship. The story of this family of aircraft carrier ships began in the 1960s when, after Nikita Khrushchev’s resignation, the USSR resumed creating a large surface fleet.
These heavy aircraft cruisers have a complicated background. Their design was the result of many compromises between the Ministry of the Shipbuilding Industry, the military command, seamen and the Soviet political leadership. The fleet expected to get universal combat ships which were cheaper than the US Navy’s combat aircraft carriers. The air wing was to consist of Ka-25 anti-submarine helicopters, and Yak-36 (Yak-38) vertical take-off and landing aircraft.
Many specialists and naval history enthusiasts are still uncertain about their purpose: some consider them to be fighters; others low-flying attack aircrafts. Yet as fighters they were lagging behind their “classmates”, such as the British Harriers – not to mention the normal MiG-23s, Phantom, etc. Indeed, as low-flying attack aircraft they were at a disadvantage to virtually all then-contemporary winged combat craft of the world’s leading countries.
At the same time, due to the Yak-38’s unsatisfactory combat capabilities it was decided to strengthen the ship’s arsenal by equipping it with anti-ship missiles. The construction of the cruisers for Project 1143 began in July 1970, when the head ship Kyiv was laid down at the Black Sea shipyard in Nikolaev. The fourth ship of the project, Baku (the future Admiral Gorshkov), was laid down eight years later.
The collapse of the USSR ruined plans for modernizing the aircraft carrier, according to which she was to receive the latest Yak-141 vertical takeoff and landing airplanes (VTOL). In 1992, the Gorshkov was docked for repairs, and since then she has never been put into operation again. In February of 1994, two major accidents occurred on board the cruiser in succession: a fire, and a steam pipeline explosion. After that, putting the ship back into service was out of the question.
Talks about the ship’s possible sale to India began back in the late nineties. At that time, plans were discussed of her transformation into a classic aircraft carrier equipped for carrying 20-25 MiG-29 aircrafts. The contract for the sale of the aircraft carrier was inked in 2004. According to its terms, Russia was to supply the ship and a group of carrier-based fighters to India, and to train its crew for the sum of $1.5 billion. The Gorshkov carrier was renamed INS Vikramaditya in the Indian Navy service in honor of one of the country’s historic heroes. The architecture of the modernized Gorshkov is reminiscent of the Admiral Kuznetsov, albeit on a smaller scale.
Interest in the project grew stronger in the summer of 2007, when the default on contract was announced. Initially the ship was to be handed to India in 2008, but works were prolonged till 2010. A wrong assessment of the amount of work needed on a number of the ship’s onboard systems, and the undervalued price of her modernization were named as reasons for the failure.
In the Indian fleet, the Russian-made ship is to replace the Viraat aircraft carrier – the former British Hermes built in 1959, and bought by India in 1985. In 2010, the Viraat’s term of service had already reached 51 years. The Gorshkov was built in 1987. It is interesting, therefore, what fate awaits her in 2038?
It is impossible to answer this question, but it is clear that today the ship is a real trump card for the Indian Navy. The Gorshkov with MiG-29s on board provides the Indian Navy superiority over all its neighbors, including its eternal rival Pakistan. The possible capacities of Chinese ships are uncertain. First of all, there are doubts that the Chinese aviation industry is able to create a full-fledged deck fighter using the Soviet SU-33 bought in Ukraine as a prototype.
As a result, the only navy in the region significantly superior to the Indian Navy is the US Navy. At the same time, the United States desperately needs Indian support in a possible confrontation with China.It can only be guessed, then, upon which side India’s trump card will fall.