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Indigenous Aircraft Carrier launch delayed by six months


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NEW DELHI (PTI): The launch of Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC)--country's largest under-construction home-built warship--has been delayed by six months and it is expected to take off sometime in the middle of next year.

Navy Chief Admiral Nirmal Verma said the IAC programme has suffered "setbacks" due to a delay in supply of critical equipment such as gearboxes.

There are certain milestones to be completed in the IAC programme after which we are looking to launch it "sometime by the middle of next year," he told reporters.

Defence Minister A K Antony had told Parliament earlier this year that the 40,000 tonne vessel would be launched this month.

Verma said being the first attempt of its kind the Navy faced several challenges in evolving the design which is being implemented by the Cochin shipyard Limited.

"There has been a setback of sorts. As some of the key equipment such as the gearboxes have not come in time. These have to be first put in the ship before it is launched. The yard is trying to make up for it," he said.

IAC will be India's second aircraft carrier along with the Admiral Gorshkov which is undergoing a refit at a shipyard in Russia.

Asked about the delays in issuing tenders for procuring six submarines under "Project 75 India", Verma said the Navy doesn't want to go a for a process which may result in a single-vendor situation that could lead to restarting the whole process.

The Navy under its 30-year submarine acquisition plans is constructing six new submarines at the Mazagon Dockyards Limited in Mumbai under the Project 75.

Asked about the projected naval strength in 2027, Army said Navy will have 150 submarines and warships along with 500 aircraft and helicopters.

He said 49 ships and submarines were presently on order, of which 45 are from Indian shipyards.

"Our preferred choice of inducting ships and submarines has been through the indigenous route," the Navy Chief said.

Verma said for the first time, public and private shipyards were involved in competitive bidding which has helped in price discovery in some cases.

"Two private shipyards have been awarded contracts for construction of Offshore Patrol Vessels and Training Ships for the Navy. With larger number of shipyards participating in warship building, a larger number of deliveries are expected in the medium-term," he said.

The Navy Chief said induction programme of the force was continuing apace and "over the next five years we expect to induct ships and submarines at an average rate of 5 ships per year provided the yards deliver as per contracted timelines."

"We expect to induct one Shivalik class frigate - Sahyadri, one Offshore Patrol Vessel, one P-28 ASW Corvette, three Catamaran Hull Survey Vessels and twenty five Fast Interceptor Craft over the next one year," he added.

Commenting on Navy's overseas warship building programmes, Verma said, "refurbishment of INS Vikramaditya is progressing on track and the ship is expected to be delivered in December 2012."

"The three Follow-on ships of Talwar class, under construction at Russia are likely to be delivered in the time frame 2012-13," he said.

On delivery of 16 MiG-29K carrier borne aircraft, the Navy Chief said it will be completed by the end of this month.

The Navy has signed a contract for 29 more aircraft, the delivery of which is likely to commence from April next.

Regarding development of naval version of Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), he said, "It is under development and two main engine runs of the first prototype have been carried out. It varies from the Air Force version due to its requirement to operate from deck of aircraft carrier."

The prototype is expected to do the "much delayed" first flight by first quarter of 2012 and once the successful flight trials are completed, we intend to go ahead with their Limited Series Production (LSP) for future inductions, Admiral Verma said.

For training of naval pilots, he said induction of Hawk AJT commencing 2013 would facilitate advanced training of the young pilots in developing requisite flying skills over sea, prior to graduating to deck based fighter aircraft.

On mid-life upgrade of existing Seaking and Kamov helicopters, he said their weapon and sensor package would be upgraded in the 12th Plan period.

"Efforts are on hand for acquiring Multirole helicopters, additional Air Early Warning helicopters and utility helicopters. The field evaluation for procurement of 16 Multirole helicopters was concluded recently and contract negotiations should commence by early 2012," Verma said.

On operationalisation of UAVs, he said their squadrons on the West Coast are fully operational and a new squadron on East Coast is planned to be commissioned early next year.

"We are in the process of procuring a number of weapons such as Heavy Machine Guns, assault and sniper rifles, Close Quarter Battle Carbines and Infantry Weapons Training Simulators, to bolster our personnel protection capabilities," Verma said.

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