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No deck to land aircraft, navy eyes dummy

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By SUJAN DUTTA in Delhi
  • Published 1.06.08
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New Delhi, June 1: The Indian Navy is set to get the first of its new-generation aircraft carrier-based aircraft, the MiG-29K, this month with no vessel on which to land it or none from which it can take off.

So what does it do? It is getting a mock-up of a flight deck built to train naval aircrew.

The flight deck mock-up is being built at the naval air station INS Hansa in Goa for which the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has begun talks with engineering contractors.

The dummy flight deck, roughly the size of the Gorshkov’s (with a 198-metre runway) that India has contracted with Russia, will also be used to train pilots on the naval version of the indigenously made Light Combat Aircraft Tejas, a senior DRDO source said.

A senior naval officer said the flight deck mock-up was experimented with by the navy earlier when it operated Sea Hawk aircraft in the 1980s from the now-decommissioned INS Vikrant. That was in Kochi.

The navy currently operates Sea Harrier aircraft that are capable of vertical landing and therefore do not need the length of a flight deck.

The DRDO official said the Naval Aviation Training Centre, loosely modelled on a Ukrainian facility, was being built not only to prepare for the Gorshkov but also for an indigenous air defence ship that is being built in Kochi. The ship is unlikely to sail before 2011. Surprisingly, the naval Tejas in which the Indian Navy is investing heavily will not be capable of landing and taking off from the Gorshkov.

The official said the facility will cost upwards of Rs 100 crore but declined to be more specific because negotiations with contractors, including a Russian firm, were on.

The main feature of the mock-up will be three arrester wires to “recover” the landing aircraft that retard their speed by hooking into a cable. The official said it was not yet decided if a “ski-jump” to launch the aircraft will be built. The Gorshkov flight deck is being refitted with a ski-jump that the Indian navy asked for.

India contracted 12 single-seater MiG-29K and four twin-seater MiG-29 KUB aircraft as part of a $1,465-billion package deal with the Gorshkov that was rechristened the INS Vikramaditya on January 20, 2004 — $650 billion for the refit of the vessel and $815 billion for the aircraft, including helicopters. But the delivery of the Gorshkov has been delayed with the Russians demanding about $1.2 billion more. It is unlikely the carrier will be delivered before 2012 though the navy is hoping that it will go into sea trials in 2010.

India’s only other aircraft carrier, the INS Viraat, is being operated at the end of its service life with extensive refits.

The MiG-29K and the MiG-29KUB, made by MiG Corporation in the Lukhovitsky plant near Moscow, were timed to be delivered along with the Gorshkov. The original contract envisaged the delivery of the Gorshkov in August 2008.

Starting this month, naval aircrew will begin a five-month training stint in Russia. Earlier, 32 naval pilots trained at a US naval facility in Pensacola, Florida.