As the Indian Navy works on sailing its newest acquisition back home, it has already decided that the INS Vikramaditya will be part of preliminary internal exercises in the Arabian Sea in 2014, but will be fielded in joint exercises with other countries only from 2015 onwards.
After operating a single aircraft carrier for over 16 years, the Indian Navy is once again technically a two-carrier force with INS Vikramaditya all set to join the INS Viraat in the Western Fleet when it arrives in Indian waters in January. The 44,500 tonne aircraft carrier will operate from Karwar, where the Seabird project is all set to receive her along with her 183-strong Russian guarantee squad, that will remain at the base for a period of one year to iron out induction issues that could spring up in the near term.
The two-carrier navy notion, though, is only that right now — a notion. The Vikramaditya won't be operational as a fighting platform for more than a year. The MiG-29Ks at INS Hansa will begin operating from the ship's deck in 2014, and will only be fully operational by early 2015. The INS Viraat, on the other hand, over 50 years old in total service, is on its last legs, though its last refit may see it extended in service till 2017-18. The ship itself is a lower cause for worry, since its embedded fleet of upgraded Sea Harriers are small in number, and availability issues constrain sustained operations. Therefore, it may not be until 2015 that India has a fully functional aircraft carrier force again.
Be that as it may, the INS Vikramaditya will find pride of place in the Western Fleet as the country's flagship. For $2.35 billion, the Indian Navy may have been forced to wait nearly a decade, but is satisfied with the results, and is looking forward to exploring the capabilities of its newest warship.