As India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, is in its final stage of construction at the Cochin Shipyard, a walk through its massive innards and an examination of what its induction would mean for the Navy’s presence in the Indian Ocean.
A cool breeze blows over you, belying the sultry May weather, as you perch atop a 70-m, 300-tonne gantry crane at Cochin Shipyard. From this vantage position, everything appears dwarfed down below. Hundreds of workmen nudging the ferrous giant, India’s maiden indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant, to life in the last leg of a protracted and intricate process of warship construction of unprecedented scale in the country, resemble Lilliputians with a sense of steely purpose. Vikrant’s flight deck, more than twice the size of a football field at 2.5 acres, is strewn with concrete blocks and a maze of wires criss-crossing and disappearing into makeshift worksites.
It is tempting to picture MiG-29K combat jets flying off the deck, streaking into the deep blue ocean sky in a matter of a few years! The flyco (flight control) stationed in the superstructure located on the starboard side would be on the toes, the radars atop the island carrying out flight control and guiding the missiles the carrier will be equipped with to engage aerial targets.
Readying to set sail
The beast that is the INS Vikrant towers over you with a hint of intimidation as you enter the gangway, which leads further to the expansive aircraft hangar that straddles a few levels. “The carrier is 262 m long, 62 m at the widest part and has a depth of 30 m minus the superstructure. There are 14 decks in all, including five in the superstructure,” says a yard supervisor.
Outfitting had been apace on Vikrant, named after India’s first aircraft carrier that was acquired from the U.K. in 1961, ever since its ceremonial launch in August 2013, and work is almost nearing completion on all decks below the fourth from the top which houses the hangar.
The carrier’s hull structure is in good shape and a few openings made on the flight deck to lower equipment into the hangar and to fix the restraining gears for takeoff will be capped once the work is over. Two turntables on either half of the hangar resemble those in discotheques. Aircraft ferried from the flight deck through the elevators located on either side of the superstructure will be positioned on the tables for easing them into their designated slots.
The hangar, capable of accommodating an assortment of 20 fighter aircraft and helicopters, is a hive of activity, with work progressing on the support lines along the stowage points, a four-tonne overhead maintenance crane and a fire curtain that will partition the space. The aviation facility, designed by Russia’s Nevskoye Design Bureau, is gradually coming in place, with the supply of equipment under way. “In view of the aviation facility being laid out soon, the Navy has already drafted in aviation technical crew from the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya to be of support,” says Captain P.A. Padmanabhan, in charge of the Navy’s Warship Overseeing Team (WOT).
As you take the ladder to the flight deck, three markings across the aft deck, indicative of the position of arrester wires that latch on to the landing gear of approaching fighter aircraft to bring them to a halt, come to view. A 40-tonne aircraft salvage crane sits snugly next to the superstructure to haul up aircraft in case one falls overboard. “God forbid it never gets used,” a worker remarks.
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