After a major refit of 15 months, India's first aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya is expected to move to outer anchorage of Karwar naval base and resume sea trials next month

India’s first aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya is expected to come out of a 15-month major refit at Karwar Naval Base and start sailing next week, followed by extensive sea trials in March.

The 45,000-ton aircraft carrier will be handed over to the Indian Navy by March 31 and the MiG-29K fighter operations will start in April 2023. The ship was sent for a major overhaul in Karwar in December 2021.

According to officials in the know of the matter, INS Vikramaditya is expected to move to the outer anchorage of Karwar Naval Base under its own engines and will start sailing/sea trials between Goa and the home port, INS Kadamba, in March. It is understood that within the next fortnight, all the engines of the modified Kiev Class carrier will be functioning and the ship is expected to be handed over for operations on March 31.

While the test air operations will begin in April, various checks of armaments and surface-to-air missile systems onboard will begin in March itself. The warship carries a maximum of 36 aircraft including 26 MiG-29K fighters and 10 Kamov Ka-31 advance electronic warning (AEW) and Ka-28 anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopters.

With INS Vikramaditya ready to spearhead the Navy, India will now have two carrier strike forces with the new carrier INS Vikrant also undergoing sea trials on the western seaboard. It is understood that after INS Vikrant and INS Vikramaditya get fully operational, the new aircraft carrier will be home-based in Visakhapatnam on the eastern seaboard of India and the former Russian carrier will be projecting maritime dominance from the western seaboard. As the jetty for INS Vikrant will take time on the eastern seaboard, the Indian Navy is planning to lease a jetty at Katupali shipyard near Chennai and at the outer anchorage of INS Varsha in Rambilli, south of Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh, to take on the rising challenge of the expanding PLA navy.

It is only a matter of time when the Modi government decides on which fighters to be placed onboard the INS Vikrant aircraft carrier, with contenders being the French Rafale-M and the US F-18. The government on the basis of the Navy’s recommendation will purchase 26 fighters on a government-to-government basis, which includes eight twin-seated trainers.

Given that the Chinese navy is expanding its footprint from Malacca Straits to South Indian Ocean and the eastern board on Africa with a naval base in Djibouti, the Indian Navy will be adding teeth to its maritime defence with its second nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) expected to be commissioned latest by 2024 and a new nuclear-powered conventional missile-armed submarine joining the force in 2025.