The Indian Navy's (IN's) retrofitted aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya , reached its home base of INS Kadamba on India's southwestern coast on 7 January.
The second-hand 44,750-tonne modified Kiev-class carrier, which took almost nine years to restore at a cost of USD2.33 billion, will shortly be integrated into the IN's Western Command headquartered at Mumbai, officials said.
The carrier, India's largest warship, took six weeks to sail from the Sevmash shipyard in Severodvinsk, Russia, where it had been refitted.
Although 1,600 IN personnel were aboard, along with helicopters for utility missions, a MiG-29KUB fighter group was not yet embarked. Senior officials told IHS Jane's that IN pilots will begin operating MiG-29KUBs aboard the carrier "over the next few weeks".
Until now, only Russian aviators have operated MiG-29s from the carrier. IN pilots have been undergoing simulator-based training at a shore-based facility at Goa, north of Kadamba, near where the MiG-29KUBs are stationed. The facility hosts a replica of Vikramaditya 's short take-off but arrested recovery (STOBAR) aircraft launch system.
IN pilots and air controllers need to be certified before Vikramaditya enters operational service.
Under a year-long guarantee provided by Sevmash, 83 Russian technicians and naval engineers who sailed with the ship will remain in Kadamba to assist the IN, officials said.
By 2017 the IN plans to fit the ship with locally-developed close-in weapon systems and Rafael-Israel Aerospace Industries Barak 8 long-range air-defence missile system. Both programmes have been delayed by several years.
Vikramaditya joins INS Viraat (ex-HMS Hermes ), the recently refitted 54-year-old Centaur-class carrier that entered Indian service in 1987 and was recently re-fitted for the fifth time. Viraat will be replaced around 2018 by Vikrant , a 40,000-tonne indigenous carrier that is under construction in Kochi, Kerala State.