The fighter aircraft landing trials for INS Vikrant, which will be commissioned on September 2, will start from November and is expected to be completed by mid-2023, Vice Admiral SN Ghormade said on Thursday. At least 12 MiG-29s can be deployed on INS Vikrant – India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier.

The Navy had already carried out five sets of trials since August 2021, which were “extremely successful”, said Vice Admiral Ghormade in his address to the media on Thursday ahead of INS Vikrant’s commissioning. “From the propulsion, equipment and weapons point of view, the ship is fully operational.”

He further said all trials cannot take place since the entire crew was not present before the commissioning.

“We will put in all efforts so that the aircraft carrier (Vikrant) is operational. The aircraft, which are available with us are MiG-29s,” he said, emphasising that Vikrant will set sail soon after commissioning.

The Navy will likely ink a deal to acquire either the French Rafale-M or the US F/A 18 Super Hornets for its aircraft-carrier-borne fighter jet programme through an intergovernmental agreement. The final decision on the number of fighter jets it seeks to buy will be based on their trial reports, which are currently being examined.

The long term plans are to deploy the twin-engine deck-based fighters being developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), but in the interim, either of the two fighters will be deployed.

Once commissioned, INS Vikrant will be the second aircraft carrier with the Navy, alongside INS Vikramaditya. Deliberations between the Navy and the government are still on over a third aircraft carrier. The Russian MiG 29K aircraft operates from INS Vikramaditya, some of which are set to be decommissioned within a decade.

Responding to a question on the contingency plans of the Navy in the absence of its aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya when it went for a refit, Vice Admiral Ghormade said the Navy and the Cochin Shipyard Limited worked at a faster pace to make INS Vikramaditya operational at the earliest and ensured that the new INS Vikrant is commissioned soon despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We also had mission-based deployments, as part of which we deployed our ships across various choke points and maintained constant surveillance. However, the additional aircraft carrier will provide increased deterrence and that is what the Navy is looking for,” he said.

The keel of Vikrant was laid in 2009 and it was launched in 2013. It has 76% of indigenous content.

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