Vikramaditya set to sail in July 2013

The situation around Vikramaditya will be discussed at a meeting of the Russian-Indian Intergovernmental Commission on Military and Technical Cooperation in Delhi on October 15. Source: Press Photo

The situation around Vikramaditya will be discussed at a meeting of the Russian-Indian Intergovernmental Commission on Military and Technical Cooperation in Delhi on October 15. Source: Press Photo

The heat insulation on the aircraft carrier’s steam boilers will be repaired at Sevmash with minimal disruption to the remaining work. No “surgical” operations will be performed on the ship’s hull.

It will take four to five months to repair and replace the brickwork that fulfils the function of thermal insulation for the steam boilers on the INS Vikramaditya, Igor Leonov, the Sevmash engineer responsible for delivering this ship, told RIR in an exclusive interview. 

The work will be painstaking and labour-intensive, Leonov said, adding that it will not be necessary to dismember the ship, or individual parts of it. Certain Russian and foreign media outlets were quick to make suggestions of such a ‘drastic surgery’ in an attempt to scare readers.

The special commission analysing the faults that were discovered during trials of the Vikramaditya in the White Sea and the Barents Sea came to the conclusion that the reason for the steam boilers to partially malfunction was poor-quality work on their heat insulation, for which the manufacturer was at fault.

As reported earlier, when these boilers were being designed and built, instead of the insulation made from asbestos-containing materials which has traditionally been used in Russia, a fireproof (heatproof, fireclay) brick was used. This replacement was made at the insistence of the client (the Indian Navy). The Indian side also asked for the replacement of fuel oil with diesel as the main fuel for the Vikramaditya’s eight boilers.

The new boilers were manufactured in 2004–2005 at the Baltic Shipyard in St Petersburg, along with one extra boiler. The ninth spare boiler, which was produced first, was left in the Special Design Office (also in St Petersburg) for tests. The records show that it met all the power requirements stipulated by the project, and no other comments were made. However it is now becoming clear that the power unit tested in St Petersburg was not quite the same as those eventually installed in the Vikramaditya.  With the first one, asbestos was used for insulation, but with all the others it was only heatproof brick. It should be importantly noted that this brick was purchased in China.

“But it’s not about the brick itself or who manufactured it,” explains Igor Leonov. “The work done to fit it inside the boilers was of poor quality. We discovered this back in July, when we began to run speed trials and started raising the temperature in the boilers to maximum values…”

At that time, RIR was told by the United Shipbuilding Corporation that the automatic protection system used on the aircraft carrier worked faultlessly. By switching off the boilers in time, it prevented them from accidentally becoming overheated or the gas flues from being burnt out, which would have required repairs on quite a different scale. While still at sea, the ship’s introduction team, together with the crew and a group of observers from the Indian Navy, started to investigate the causes of what had happened. That’s when they ascertained that the brickwork had fallen out of place. They tried to fix it themselves, but it turned out that this was not an isolated defect but a general problem for the entire group of boilers.

Having discovered such an unpleasant “wormhole” in the aircraft carrier’s power unit, they decided not to make a fuss about it, so that they could calmly work through the other part of the trials such as the ship’s ability to interact with its carrier aviation and test its electronics and weapons systems. In August, some highly experienced pilots from the MiG Aircraft Corporation conducted test flights on the aircraft carrier’s new deck with various loads of fuel tanks and weapons. Representatives of the sea trials crew claimed that the client was satisfied with the results.

“The final landing by a MiG-29 on Vikramaditya’s deck was on September 2,” explains Leonov. “By that time we had taken on board more than 400 members of the Indian crew, headed by Captain Suraj Berry. It was decided that while the ship was being repaired in Severodvinsk, only 40 crew members and their commander would remain, plus officers from the Indian Navy observation group, as before.”

The timetable for the repair works to be completed on the Vikramaditya, as described in laconic terms by Leonov, looks like this: the labour-intensive operations to replace the brick insulation and the associated repair work inside the boiler units should be completed by February 2013. This will not require relocating the aircraft carrier – all the operations will be carried out while it is afloat at its Sevmash mooring. Work has now begun on dismantling the equipment; the materials required have been ordered, including heatproof bricks, and two or three additional teams of professional bricklayers with special training are being put together.

The date for docking the aircraft carrier has been approved for April 25, 2013. According to Leonov, the dry dock inspections will take two months, and this is a mandatory procedure before the ship goes to sea after being repaired. The underwater part of the ship and the propellers will be inspected again. If necessary, the protective anti-corrosion coating will be replaced or strengthened in problematic areas.

The ship is set to sail on July 3, 2013. Vikramaditya will have the same boilers, but now with new, high-quality thermal insulation. It is expected to reach its design speed of 30 knots and demonstrate its manoeuvring qualities, including at top speed.

“This summer, with the boilers not working at full capacity, we were getting 28–29 knots. And when we lift the limitations we had to impose, Vikramaditya will add another two or three knots,” Leonov concludes. “I personally have no doubt about that.”

Andrei Dyachkov, president of the Russian United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC), has confirmed in a report to Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Dmitry Rogozin, that fireproof (fire clay) bricks of Chinese make were used for the thermal insulation of Vikramaditya’s boilers. When the boilers were fired up during the dockside trials at the shipyard, according to Dyachkov, they could only be heated to 40 percent of their nominal capacity. And when they reached full power during the speed trials “a partial destruction of the fireproof brickwork in the boiler furnaces” occurred. In Russian boiler installations, the head of USC added, asbestos board is used. But when the Indian clients examined the design, they didn’t want the same material used.

In addition to the problem with the boilers, some other mechanisms on the aircraft carrier also failed during the integrated sea trials, the head of USC admitted. In particular, three cooling machines, nitrogen generators and a whole range of other equipment supplied from NATO countries broke down. “These suppliers were proposed by the Indian side,” stated Dyachkov at a meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister, who is responsible for the Russian military industrial complex and for military and technical cooperation with other countries.

According to Rogozin, the situation around Vikramaditya will be discussed at a meeting of the Russian-Indian Intergovernmental Commission on Military and Technical Cooperation in Delhi, which will take place on October 15. All the problematic issues connected with the new costs and delivery date for the aircraft carrier for the Indian Navy will be resolved before the Russian-Indian summit in November 2012, the Russian Deputy Prime Minister stated.

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