Thursday, May 28, 2015

A Beast in the Making INS Vikrant

 A Beast in the Making INS Vikrant

  Serving with the motto “May the Lord of the Oceans be auspicious unto us”, the Indian navy is protecting our nation’s maritime border and is also protector of Indian interests spread across the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) which spans about 220 nautical miles. Indian navy saw its first action during the liberation of Goa. The navy turned out to be an important arm in the Indo-Pakistan war in 1971 and helped India setup a naval blockade, chocking the erstwhile East Pakistan from receiving any reinforcements. Operation Trident and Operation Python have reflected the capabilities of the Indian Navy.

          With India’s interests stretching as far as South China Sea, a modernized and robust navy is the need of the hour. The interests of both the nation’s has grown significantly over the years. Both the nations are realizing their dreams of converting their navy from a ‘regional navy’ to a ‘Blue water navy’ to control over the sea ways. With the EEZ stretching over 200 nautical miles the navy has its work crafted out. A two front war is a scenario that the Indian navy has to be prepared for. To counter the Chinese and the Pakistani threats the Indian Navy has opted for a three-carrier fleet, with two carriers working in the western and eastern front and another carrier in reserve.
  By 1987, the navy was operating two CBG’s headed by, INS Viraat and INS Vikrant. Both the warships were acquired from the Royal navy, the warships were aging war machines. To replace these aging ships, India came up with plans to field two state of the art Air Defence Ships but the program was shelved owing to the 1991 economical crisis. The program was again reviewed in 1999, and the navy board decided to field an STOBAR carrier. An official announcement in this regard was made in 2003. The program was awarded to the state run Cochin Shipyard limited (CSL).
    The IAC project when completed would feature the biggest vessels built by an Indian shipyard. The carriers would be classified as Vikrant class carrier, the navy planned to produce at least one follow on carrier.


     Vikrant would be the first ship to be built under the IAC project, the carrier would feature an STOBAR design with an ski-jump to launch aircraft of the deck. The work on the vessel commenced in 2004, with CSL receiving infrastructural boost to host the project.  The CCS sanctioned Rs 3261 crore for the first phase of construction. The work on the carrier started in 2004, problems with procuring high grade steel from the Russians stalled the program but was soon revived with SIAL and DMRL supplying the steel by 2006. Soon the keel of the ship was laid on 28 Feb 2009 by then MoD Shri AK Antony. When laid the ship was built by joining nearly 423 blocks and weighted around 8000 ton. The ship then progressed into its second phase of work, which included integrating the ship’s ski jump and air deck.

        The project also called for several private and public partnerships. The main private players in the program were L&T, Kirloskar, BHEL, Avio and Elecon. Larsen and Tourbo one of the leading players in Indian defence projects, pitched in with many ground breaking technologies that made the project a reality. L&T provided crucial components like main switch board, steering gear and water tight hatches. The crucial gearboxes were supplied by Elecon. The electrical cables were supplied by Nicco industries. Kirloskar group supplied the air conditioning and refrigeration systems for the carrier. The crucial water pumps and jets to power the carrier were supplied by Best and Crompton. The state run BHEL provided the Integrated Platform Management System (IPMS) and roped in the Italian giant, Avio to integrate this on the carrier. 

      The second phase of construction received about Rs 2840 crore. The carrier’s hull was finally completed in December 2011 and was floated out of dry dock on 29th December 2011. The hull weighted around 14000 ton when it was sailed out of the dry dock. Elecon engineering in 2012, clarified that the technology involved in developing a gearbox powering a machine of the size of a carrier was cumbersome and technologies involved in mastering this technology needed more time. It was further clarified that the propulsion shaft to be used on board the carrier had several problems, the shaft was realigned several times to achieve the right amount of accuracy for hinder free operations.

        The fitting out process on the hull continued till the end of 2012. The carrier was finally launched on 12th August 2013 and the carrier was re-docked to be integrated with its propulsion system, air deck and aircraft complex. The work on the superstructure has neared completion, and the ship is scheduled to be launched on 28th May 2015. The carrier has received all major equipment and has now acquired the shape of an aircraft carrier. The outfitting process on-board the carrier has progressed in a steady stream. The major part of the outfitting process includes integrating the carrier with piping, electrical cabling, control system wiring and will progress after the launch. The carrier is expected to enter the trial phase by 2017. The carrier will be extensively tested for its capabilities and several flight deck operations will be carried out on board the carrier and the carrier is expected to enter service by 2018.

         Even though the IAC was drawn as an Indigenous project, several fields have received technological boost from Russia, Italy and several other countries. India is believed to have signed as many as nearly fourteen contracts for providing the carrier’s aviation complex, delivery of major aviation equipment.  The aviation complex is being designed by the Nevskoye Design Bureau, even though Indian companies pitched in to design the complex the Directorate of Naval Design (DND) deferred the offer. The aviation wing of the carrier was being handled by the Russian developed MiG 29K and the Ka-31’s, hence the DND decided to field the project with the Nevskoye Design Bureau.

         The Carrier when completed will measure 860 ft in length and will be around 200 ft in width. The ship will be powered by four gas turbines, which has been designed by the General Avionics. GE and DND choose the powerful and reliable LM2500 to power the ship. The LM2500 is interestingly a derivative of the General Electric CF6, which is an aircraft engine which has powered several key aviation projects. The navy chose the LM2500+ which delivers 30200 kW of power and has one of the best thermal efficiency at 29 % when operated under ISO conditions. The LM2500 were first used by the US navy in 1970 to power the Spruance class destroyers. These turbines are produced in India by HAL under license.

       It is a highly regarded piece of machinery and is used by nearly twenty nine other navies. The ship can attain a maximum speed of up to 52 Km/h and at any given time the carrier should maintain a speed of at least 30 km/h to assist the air operations. The carrier enjoys a range of 8000 nautical miles and the range can be easily supplemented by the help of a replenishment ship.

Aviation wing of Vikrant

       INS Vikrant will have power packed air wing, lead by the battle proven Mikoyan MiG 29K. The carrier will also house the home grown Naval LCA as and when the project receives it FOC.  Vikrant’s rotary crafts will be based around the Kamov Ka-31, Dhruv’s naval version and the Westland Sea King. The Kamov Ka-31 will play a significant role acting as the primary airborne early warning system. The Sea King’s will perform the role of ASW (Anti Submarine Warfare) operations. 

Mikoyan MiG-29K

     With India choosing to acquire INS Vikramaditya with an STOBAR design, Russia put forward the MiG-29K and Sukhoi 33 as the primary aviation wing. India choose the MiG-29K declining the SU-33 owing to its larger wing size. Developed by the Mikoyan, MiG-29K is a 4++ generation, all weather carrier based multi-role aircraft. A carrier based aircraft demanding an more reinforced under carrier and tail section, Mikoyan came up with the MiG29K which was developed specially for naval operations. The 29K was equipped with a more powerful and efficient engine, the cockpit and the armament received significant changes.

    MiG29K took to skies on 23rd July 1988, piloted by Aubakirov and by landing on Admiral Kuznetsov it achieved its first carrier landing on 1st November 1989. An aircraft capable of handling AEW was also developed based on the MiG29K and was called the MiG-29KUB. This jet features two aircrew and was equipped with powerful radar and secured data-links. Flying in formation and connecting over the secured links these aircraft could form a credible wave of AEW system. 

      The jet is powered by the Kilmov RD-33MK engines, an after-burning turbofan jet engine developed by the Klimov for powering light weight fighter jets. The engine can develop a maximum thrust of around 50N when run in dry mode and can produce a maximum output of around 80N when the afterburners are engaged. The engines are very efficient and can produce 7% more thrust than the engines powering the MiG29’s, the engine is controlled by an FADEC or Full Authority Digital Engine control. The FADEC is an electronic computer that basically consists of Electronic Engine controller (EEC), and will monitor the engine performance throughout the flight. If the engines performance is found to be non-satisfactory the system will immediately restore the engine controls to a preset mode.

         A four channel fly-by-wire system controls the aircraft, one of the most advanced avionics package went aboard the aircraft. The aircraft is equipped with a passive anti-missile homing system, it is also provided with the Sigma-95 GPS receivers which efficiently guide the pilot to his designated targets. The targeting system of the aircraft received a major boost with the helmet-mounted targeting system being introduced. To counter interference with the systems by the enemies, the aircraft is equipped with state-of-the art ECM systems. The primary radar of the aircraft is the NIIR Phazotron developed, Zhuk-AE radars. These radars feature an active electronically scanned array. The radar features a 700mm antenna and 1016 T/R (Transmit/Recieve) modules. The radar has an approximate detection range of 200 km, and can track about 60 targets at a time and can engage six targets simultaneously. The jet can also be equipped with infra-red search and track (IRST) system. This system helps in detecting and tracking objects by following the infrared radiation emitted from the objects.

      MiG 29K is equipped with an array of weapon systems, being a multi-role aircraft the jet can carry a mix of air-air missiles and air-ground missiles. The very basic weapon system of the MiG 29K is the GSh-30-1 30mm cannon, mounted in the port wing root. Weighing just about 40 kg the gun can be easily mounted on the airframe, the uniqueness of the weapon system is its short recoil action. Firing up to 1800 rounds per minute the gun annihilate any armoured hostile targets.

      The maximum effective range of the gun is around 800 m against aerial targets and varies between 1200-1800 m against ground targets.

    Equipped with laser range finding and targeting system, the rounds can be fired with pinpoint accuracy. The aircraft can carry laser-guided and electro-optical bombs for conducting air-ground attack missions. The jet can also be equipped with Kh-31P passive radar seeker missiles which can be used as anti-radiation missiles. The aircraft can also carry Kh-35 and Kh-31A anti-shipping missiles, causing havoc over enemy ships. It is crucial the jet also can engage aerial targets, the jet is equipped with air to air missiles. Various foreign developed missiles can also be integrated with the aircraft.

        India has signed a $1.2 billion deal, with the Mikoyan for acquiring 40 MiG 29K, INS Vikramaditya will carry up to 24 fighters. INS Vikrant is expected to carry up to 30 fighters which will be a mix of the MiG 29K and the LCA naval version.
     The rotary wing of the carrier will be formed by the Kamov Ka -31, Westland Sea king and HAL Dhruv.

Kamov Ka-31


  The Kamov Ka-31 is basically a naval airborne early warning and control system. Designed on the Ka-29 airframe, the Ka-31 was a result of the technologies clubbed with the Ka-29 and the An-71. The Ka-29 airframe and the Nizhny Novgorod Radio Engineering Institute developed Radar system was clubbed to form the Ka-29RLD.  The Kamov Ka-31 first flight took place in 1989 and entered service with the Russian navy only in 1995 but in very limited numbers. Fully fledged induction was only after the Indian navy ordered these platforms to be based on INS Vikrant and INS Vikramaditya. The newer Talwar class was also to be equipped by Ka-31’s. 

      The Kamov Ka-31 are distinctive from the Ka-27, even though developed around the Ka-27 major changes were accommodated to make the helicopter more robust. The electro-optical suite was removed to make the helicopter lighter and more maneuverable. The Ka-27 was using the TV3-117 BK but the Ka-31 was fitted out with the more powerful and efficient Kilmov designed TV-3 117VMAR engines.

    The TV3-117 is a gas turbine engine each producing 1633kW power. The helicopter can fly at 250 Km/h while on patrol and operates at around 3500m. The helicopter has a range of around 600 km and can endure a patrol of around 3 hours.

    The early warning radar on board is E-801M Oko or Eye. The radar antenna is 6 sq mt and is stowed underneath the fuselage. The antenna system extends when the radar is switched on. The radar has a detection range of around 200 km against surface ships and can track up to 30-40 targets simultaneously. Ka-31 has a secured data-link to transfer the target tracking data with a command post. The Ka-31 under the Indian navy is enabled with Abris GPS system which features a 12 channel receiver. The helicopter is also equipped with digital terrain maps, auto navigations systems, and ground proximity warning sensors and also features the flight stabilization and auto homing sensors, which help to efficiently land the helicopter on to a ship’s deck under extreme weather conditions. These helicopters though designed to be robust lack the capability to be part of ASW operations. The need for ASW platforms is crucial, Indian navy for that role has chosen the Westland Sea King. 

Westland Sea King

     The Sea king developed by the Westland’s is a derivative of the American Sikorsky SH-3 helicopters. The Westland WS-61 was built under by the Britain under licence. The Sea King’s differed considerably from the SH-3, newer power plants, avionics and weapon systems were integrated to make the platform more capable.

       The Sea King was primarily designed to conduct Anti Submarine Warfare (ASW) missions. Sea King has been one of the most proven ASW platforms and is the mainstay weapon system for the Indian navy. To handle ASW missions the helicopter is equipped with two marine markers, smoke floats and sonobuoys. The aircraft is also fitted with BAE systems developed type 2069 sonar which is equipped with the state-of-the art AQS-902G-DS acoustic signal processor.
 The sonar can engage targets up to 700 feet. The helicopter is also equipped with a magnetic anomaly detector, but has to been seen if the same will be supplied to the Indian navy.  The aircraft is also equipped with Rockwell Collins developed Joint Tactical Information Distribution System (JTIDS) which enables easy exchange of information throughout the platforms.

     The aircraft is capable of carrying up to four torpedoes and is armed with mk11 depth charges. The aircraft is also equipped with anti-ship missiles. The Indian navy platform is equipped with Sea Eagle anti-ship missiles. The Sea Eagle is all weather, fire and forget missile system. A sea skimming missile, the detection of Sea Eagle is extremely difficult and can strike targets as far as 100kms.

    The Sea Kings are powered by two Rolls Royce Gnome H1400-1T engines. The power plant churns out 1238kW of power and can help the helicopter achieve top speeds of nearly 200 Km. The helicopter enjoys an range of around 1230 Km. The Sea King is an versatile ASW platform which has seen action with the Britain and the Indian Navy.  Sea King is and will be the most potent ASW platform for the Indian navy, any replacement programs is highly likely. The home grown Dhruv is yet to evolve to handle the ASW operations.

Defensive and Offensive Suites

       Owing to their large size the aircraft carriers are sitting ducks when an attack is mounted on them. Though the escort vessels and the carrier’s own aviation fleet form a formidable defensive wave, still a system that is independent for the carrier is necessary. Vikrant is provided with the advanced AK-630 Close-in Weapon Systems (CIWS) and the MR-SAM Barak-I systems. The ship maybe equipped with the more advanced and effective Barak-8 LR SAM systems.

 Ak-630 CIWS

           The AK-630 CIWS developed by the Russians is a fully automated system and is one of the best systems available in the world. The AK-630 systems are used in almost every Russian naval platform ranging from fast attack crafts to aircraft carriers. The 630 basically stands for a 6 barreled weapon firing 30mm rounds. The system stands as the last line of defense against incoming threats.

     An AK-630 weapon system consists of the AK-630M gun mount, MR-123-02 fire control radar system which handle two guns simultaneously and the SP-521 electrical-optical tracker.  An aerial target can be engaged at around 4 km and surface targets at around 5 km. Aerial targets can be tracked from around 7 Km and surface targets from around 70 Km. The gun operates on gas rotary cannon to enhance the accuracy it is equipped with laser range finder and TV optical sight. The gun is usually operated in pairs and for larger ships it is operated in two pairs which will enhance the point defense system.

     Developed by the Israeli’s, Barak-I is a very robust ship borne point defense missile system. Mounted in 8-cell modules these missiles can be launched vertically at a moment’s notice. The Barak-I system is complemented with radar, computers and missile systems. The fire control is handled by C3I system and provides 360 degree coverage. The missile system can engage anti-ship missiles, sea-skimming missiles, aerial targets including aircraft’s and UAV’s. The Barak-I systems are short range point defence missiles and can engage targets as far as 12 km. India opted to the Barak-I in the early 2000’s but was cleared only in 2013 when India ordered 262 Barak-I missile systems at an estimated US $140 million deal. The Indian navy currently operates the system on 14 surface ships, INS Vikramaditya is getting its Barak-I systems from a retiring Godavari class frigate.

Barak 8 LR SAM

       The Barak-8 Long range Surface to Air Missiles being jointly developed by Israel and India. Barak-8 can engage any airborne threats including aircraft, UAV’s and anti-ship missiles. Barak-8 is a two stage system powered by a smokeless dual pulsed rocket motor. The missile is highly maneuverable in the terminal phase and locks on to the threat with the help of an active radar seeker. The Barak-8 can engage targets up to 70 Km and uses the EL/M 2248 MF-STAR AESA as the primary target acquisition system thus enabling simultaneous track and destruct capability. The system is slated to be fired from INS Kolkata, India is also believed to be developing an more extended range version which can engage targets up to 100 Km. With the induction of Barak-8 happening by around 2017, Barak-8 systems may be added to the IAC project during the refits.

OTO Melara 76 mm

       The OTO Melara 76 mm is a naval gun developed in 1960’s. The gun fires 76x636mm rounds and can fire up to 120 rounds/min.

Sensor Suites
        The carrier is equipped with sophisticated sensor suites, the primary radars in the carrier are the Selex RAN-40L AESA radar and the EL/M-2248 MF-STAR AESA. Operating in L band the Selex, naval 3D search radar’s can be used for long range maritime surveillance and early warning. The radar is capable of tracking and detecting aircrafts and air borne threats as far as 400 km. The IAI developed EL/M-2248 MF-STAR (Multi Function- Surveillance, Track and Guidance Radar) is multi-function AESA naval radar. Operating in S-band and equipped with four active arrays the radar can track up to 100 threats simultaneously, the radar can track aircraft from 250 km and a sea skimming missile from 25 km. 

Article by Karthik Kakoor

    Credits to all the sources I have used while bringing forward this article, it would not have been possible without the help of those resourceful sources. The photos used in the article are just for representation purpose and the copyrights are bestowed with the original photographers who toiled around to click these mesmerizing shots.

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