Thursday, November 12, 2009

Indian planes without aircraft carriers and aircraft carries without planes

Bharat (aka India) has a 50s vintage obsolete aircraft carrier but doesn’t have the planes to carry tham. Half of them crashed under the inept leadership of the IAF which has the worst crash record of any Air Force on the planet.

On the other hand the mothballed Russian Aircraft Carrier Gorshkov for which Bharat has paid about $3 Billion still doesn’t have a confirmed delivery date or even a confirmed contract to which both parties (Delhi and Moscow) have agreed upon. The Mig 29s that were supposed to have been carried by Gorshkov have arrived and have no home—they were built to take off and land from Aircraft Carriers. MiG-29Ks are the maritime version of the Migs and their maximum effectiveness emanates from the deck of an aircraft carrier. They cannot land on the Viraat.

The Indian Navy had mothballed the obsolete Viraat (along with the Harriers) with a decommissioning date all set—it was recommissioned because the Gorskov got delayed by several years. The Indian Navy did not want to be left without the prestige of an Aricraft Carrier.

The arcane Viraat does not have a landing strip that can accommodate the Migs landing on it. Only the British-origin Sea Harriers which are specifically designed for Aircraft Carriers can land on the Viraat---and that landing is a “Vertical landing” (like a chopper). The vintage Sea Harriers used to be useful for reconnaissance and search and rescue mission—and have minimal fighter jet capability. The Indian Navy would have liked to fill the decks of the Viraat with the Harriers, but the planes are pretty much useless, so the Navy would rather leave the deck of the Viraat empty then to fill the deck with aircraft that serve no useful purpose.

Bharat is replacing the vintage Viraat with an expired Gorshkov. The Russians are fed up of dealing with the Indians on the Gorshkov, and the Bharatis are fed up of paying more Dollars for the Gorshkov—which is now 60% more than the price of a new Aircraft Carrier (that no body would sell to the Indians).

The Indian Navy has now contracted to try to build Aircraft Carriers itself. Building an Aircraft Carrier from scratch is a very difficult enterprise and Bharat with little or no expertise in building ships will have a very tough time constructing indigenous Aircraft Carriers. The Koreans which have one of the best Shipbuilding industries on the planet are not building Aircraft Carriers, and the Chinese have only very recently ventured into this game.

The Times of India report describes the dilemma very eloquently.

NEW DELHI: Sheer lack of long-term strategic planning, coupled with a dose of bad luck, has landed India in a peculiar situation. If it did not expose a gaping hole in the country's military capabilities, the predicament would have actually been quite ludicrous.

On one hand, it has an ageing but newly-refurbished aircraft carrier, INS Viraat, which is fast running out of fighters which can operate from its deck.

On the other, it's soon going to induct another type of maritime fighters but no suitable carrier to operate them from. Navy will get Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov only by early-2013 but will begin inducting its MiG-29Ks later this month.
Sources say the first four of the 16 MiG-29Ks contracted along with the 44,570-tonne Gorshkov, in the initial $1.5-billion package deal inked with Russia in January 2004 after a decade of negotiations, will arrive in India in the "last week of November''.

This comes at a time when the 50-year-old INS Viraat is finally back in action after an 18-month-long comprehensive refit to increase its longevity as well as upgrade its weapon and sensor packages.

But, as reported by TOI earlier, the 28,000-tonne old warhorse is left with only 11 of its Sea Harrier jump-jets. Navy inducted 30 of the British-origin Sea Harriers, which take off from the angled ski-jump on INS Viraat but land vertically on its deck, but has lost over half of them in accidents since mid-1980s.

India had shown interest in buying some more Sea Harriers from British Royal Navy, which replaced the fighters in 2006 with Harrier-GR9s, some time ago but the deal did not ultimately materialise.

Unlike the `unconventional' Sea Harriers, which are V/STOL (vertical and/or short take-off and landing) jets, MiG-29Ks are `conventional' fighters and hence cannot operate from small carriers like Viraat.

The ongoing refit of the partly-burnt Gorshkov, at Sevmash Shipyard in North Russia, in fact, includes removal of missile launchers on the bow to build a ski-jump at a 14.3 degree angle as well as three arrestor wires on the angled deck for MiG-29Ks.
"MiG-29Ks, which are `tail-hookers', will land on Gorshkov with help of arrestor wires in STOBAR (short take-off but arrested recovery) configuration. They cannot land vertically like Sea Harriers,'' said an official.

Incidentally, India is going to order 29 more MiG-29Ks for around $1.1 billion since the fighters will operate from both Gorshkov, rechristened INS Vikramaditya, as well as the long-delayed 40,000-tonne indigenous aircraft carrier being built at Cochin Shipyard, which should roll out by 2014-2015.
India and Russia, of course, have to still settle their bitter wrangling over the huge jump in Gorshkov's refit cost. "Its earlier $974 million refit cost will go up to $2.5 billion or so... The negotiations are still in progress. But Gorshkov will come to us by 2012-2013,'' said the official.

Consequently, Navy will have to wait till then to undertake carrier deck operations of MiG-29Ks. In the interim, naval pilots will have to fly the MiG-29Ks from only the shore-based airbase INS Hansa in Goa.  Times of India. India's plight: A carrier running out of jets; fighters without their carrier. Rajat Pandit, TNN 12 November 2009, 02:33am IST.

Defense analysts believe that Bharat will be challenged to come up with three or four Aircraft Carriers in the next few years. If the Gorshkov deal ever materializes for Delhi, she may have a USSR vintage rust bucket with new paint on it—if the deal fails (which many analysts suspect it will), then Bharat is left with a 50s carrier with obsolete planes on it (if Delhi decides to replace the half that crashed). The Indian Navy plans to decommission the Viraat once it gets the Gorshkov—that is the reason it is not replacing the Harriers that land on it. Maintaining an Aircraft Carriers is an expensive exercise. Maintaining an obsolete Aircraft Carrier is even more expensive. So why does Bharat maintain a rust bucket when it serves no purpose at all? The entire culture is about big temples that can overwhelm the senses of the lower castes. Lots of Dollars and Paisas are being spent on stoking the ego of the Indian Department of Defense—so that they can claim credible defense in front on an illiterate and penury stricken population.

For the foreseeable future Bharat will not have any affective Aircraft Carrier capability—even though on paper it may show more than one Aircraft Carrier on its books.

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