Vikramaditya “significant capability-enhancer” for Indian Navy- Commodore Berry

The conclusion of trials and operationalisation of Vikramaditya will be an enriching experience for the Indian Navy which will stand us well for our indigenous programme in the years to come. Source: AO Sevmash press office

The conclusion of trials and operationalisation of Vikramaditya will be an enriching experience for the Indian Navy which will stand us well for our indigenous programme in the years to come. Source: AO Sevmash press office

In this exclusive interview, Commodore Suraj Berry, who will take charge of the INS Vikramaditya, talks about the refurbishment of the aircraft carrier and its recent trials, Indo-Russian naval cooperation and his career in the Indian Navy.

Commodore Berry, can you tell us something about the interaction between the Russian and Indian Naval crews during the trials of the INS Vikramaditya”?

The interaction and professional understanding between the Russian and Indian Navy has been very good and has stood the test of time over decades. A sizable percentage of Indian Naval personnel have been in Russia for various projects in the past and fostered strong bonds of friendship and mutual respect. The bilateral exercise, ‘Indra’ conducted annually between the two navies reflects the good and warm relations and is a testimony of our commitment to each other.

The 12th Crew under the command of Captain Ist Rank Igor Vaisilivich Raybko and the Indian commissioning crew have fostered close bonding during the course of trials. Whilst both the crew may not be proficient in the languages, the understanding is perfect and both crews joined hands in all evolutions onboard and have imbibed a good sense of mutual understanding.

Commodore Suraj Berry. Source: Irina Ogorodnikova

The joint planning/ coordination group of the crew along with the Brigade Staff are responsible for the successful conduct of trials. Similarly, the joint working group on training has done a marvellous job in creating a unique concurrent trials and training programme onboard. Onboard we undertake evolutions for trials, working side by side on the main propulsion plant, power generation/ distribution systems, radio electronic aids, handling movement of aircraft on deck, anchoring/ mooring to the buoy, tasks with boats.

Our cooperation also extends to mutual participation in sports and cultural activities onboard. Both crews jointly celebrated the Russian Navy Day and Independence Day of India with flags of both countries flying side by side on the mast in 2012 and in 2013. This truly epitomized the jointness, mutual feeling of respect and understanding between the two crews. We are thankful for the professionalism of the Russian Navy and the support that they have rendered to us during each phase of the trials.

How do you assess the work carried out by “Sevmash” during repair and re-equipment of the ship?

Project 11430 is an extremely unique and possibly the only one of its kind in the world, wherein a Heavy Aircraft Carrying Cruiser has been converted into a STOBAR aircraft carrier. The magnitude, quantum and quality of work undertaken by Sevmash is simply an engineering marvel and exhibits world class technological prowess of the shipyard. Despite numerous challenges during the R&R, Sevmash along with all its subcontractors and NDB have created a truly reliable, robust and highly capable combat worthy platform.

Source: AO Sevmash press office

The fact that during sea trials part I in 2012, the ship sailed continuously for 100+ days after a 17-year long gap without any major breakdowns or incidents, is indicative of the high quality of work undertaken by Sevmash. The failure of brick work in the boilers was an unfortunate setback last year. During sea trials part II in 2013, the performance of these boilers has been excellent and as per the design parameters. This truly reflects the capability of Sevmash Shipyard. Thorough, comprehensive and painstaking work undertaken by the professional work force, both ladies and men, of the shipyard to make this ship a reality, is highly praiseworthy.

What difficulties had to be encountered during the ship modernisation? How were they overcome?

The scope and scale of repairs and modernisation work for this project has been enormous and would be difficult to comprehend. The initial envisaged work included modification of flight deck to include a ski-jump, arresting and restraining gear; modification of numerous systems and installation of new generation equipment /systems/ sensors. In addition, upgradation/ replacement of a number of other equipment and complete re-cabling. 

As work commenced, the scope increased significantly beyond that initially envisaged, necessitating re-negotiations that consequently led to time and cost revision. The phase between Jan–Nov 2007 was indeed challenging for both the countries. Each country not only displayed their commitment to the time-tested friendly relations, but also the willingness to resolve the situation through deliberations in the best interest acceptable to both nations. The positive approach of the Indian Side was the mainstay for continued belief in the project by both sides. Thereafter, the work once again commenced in full earnest and there was no looking back.

During sea trials part I in 2012, ship’s boilers experienced defects that required repairs. Despite the problems, the ship completed a large part of her flight trials successfully and returned to the Shipyard. This has been the only setback in the trials phase. Post repairs the ship has now been at sea for more nearly 50 days and progressing trials satisfactorily. All in all the ship is as good as new, the hull is in excellent condition and would serve the Indian Navy well for many decades.

Is it difficult to master the ship, taking over control over her from the seamen of Russian Navy Crew? What difficulties were encountered on this way?

Each time the Indian Navy acquired an aircraft carrier, it was a big induction, it is no different this time except the fact that this ship is the largest one to be acquired by the Indian Navy thus far. Displacing nearly 45,000 tonnes, the ship is indeed big.

The advanced equipment and state of the art systems present peculiarities of handling and mastering. The Indian Navy selected well-qualified personnel with adequate experience at sea and these personnel were put through an intense, well crafted and excellent training programme by the Russian Navy. The methodology of training has suitably enabled all the Indian crew to imbibe the intricacies of operating and maintaining the ship. 

The experience of participating in the sea trials and practical training onboard has provided the crew excellent opportunity to learn by observing the Russian specialists. Having been afforded the opportunity to steer the ship, anchor and manoeuvre her, I must say that the ship has excellent handling characteristics and steers much like a frigate belying its size. The power and manoeuvrability provide great flexibility in its operation.

Backed with experience of operating aircraft carriers and other helicopter carrying platforms, the Indian crew has been able to seamlessly gain hands on experience on the equipment fitted onboard. The close association and mutual understanding with Russian crew has paved the way for a smooth transition for the Indian crew during trials and training, overcoming challenges and progressing towards independent operation of the ship.

What place do you think Vikramaditya will take in the line of the Indian Navy ships after it is accepted into the scope of the Navy?

In keeping with the vision and maritime doctrine of the Navy, the ship will be part of the Western Fleet to fulfil its envisaged role in the order of battle of the Indian Navy. The good endurance, high speeds of operation, excellent sea keeping and tested combat capability would enable the ship to herald a capability based transformation at sea.

Source: AO Sevmash press office

The ship would be central to the carrier task force exercising core capabilities and operational tasks in keeping with the aims of the Indian Navy. This platform would facilitate operational training for the present and future generations of our naval aviators, including the fighter pilots, to enable them for combat missions from similar or larger decks. We would be able to effectively discharge all envisaged roles to ensure secure, stable and peaceful seas and preserving our national interests in the maritime domain. The challenges and responsibilities of the Indian Navy have always been significant and our government accords special attention to induction of maritime capability that would ensure unhindered economic development and national progress. In this aspect this ship along with its integral fighters and helicopters as part of the Indian Fleet would definitely be a significant capability-enhancer.

Commodore Berry, can you tell us something about yourself? Onboard what ships did you serve before Vikramaditya? Is the aircraft carrier an important milestone in your naval career? What feelings do you have when standing at bridge controlling such a mighty ship?

Hailing from a services family, I joined the Indian Naval Academy and was commissioned in the Indian Navy in 1987. During the last 26 years, the Indian Navy has provided me opportunity to serve both at sea and ashore and I have been immensely fortunate to serve at sea for a large part of my service career.

Being a Gunnery and Missile warfare specialist, my sea duty tenures have been onboard different ships, I have had the honour and privilege of being the commissioning crew of INS Delhi – a Project 15 destroyer and commanding INS Nirbhik - a Project 1241 missile vessel, Karmuk – a Project 16 guided missile corvette and Talwar - Project 1135.6 frigate.

Whilst ashore, tenures of duty positioned me at Headquarters Western Naval Command, Operations Officer of Rubez-E - the Mobile Missile Coastal Battery, Defence Adviser at Sri Lanka and Maldives, Directorate of Staff Requirements at the Naval Headquarters and Naval Assistant to the Chief of the Naval Staff. I attended the Naval Staff Course at the US Naval War College, Rhode Island.

I consider myself very fortunate to have been entrusted the command of this magnificent ship. While standing on the bridge and flight deck, I am conscious of this immense responsibility, trust and honour that has been bestowed upon me by the Indian Navy and my nation. The task of commissioning the ship and ensuring readiness of the crew for conduct of safe and efficient operational tasking along with flying is a challenge.

Effective planning, thorough professional training, creation of efficient operating procedures, high safety standards, institution of sound management and good administration principles along with the time honoured traditions, customs and discipline would effectively pave the way for the success of my team. The large number of officers and personnel of my crew are some of the finest professionals of our Navy and I am indeed very fortunate to be part of this team and their shipmate.

Can you compare the Vikramaditya aircraft carrier with the INS Viraat? In what fields are there significant differences between them?

Viraat in its previous avatar as Hermes was commissioned in the Royal Navy in 1959 and later transferred to the Indian Navy in 1987. Viraat, has flown the flag of the Indian Navy with distinction for the past 26 years and has been central to the concept of carrier operations in the Indian Navy. The contribution of Viraat to our navy is unparalleled. The displacement and overall dimensions of Vikramaditya are much more than Viraat. The larger size translates into enhanced capability due to the increased number of aircraft that can operate from onboard. Moreover, the two carriers belong to different categories, Viraat is a STOVL (Short Takeoff and Vertical Landing) carrier whilst Vikramaditya a STOBAR (Short Takeoff but Arrested Recovery). The two ships have been built around different ‘concepts’ and it would be inappropriate to compare the two, especially since both the ships have served their countries of origin with distinction in their previous forms. Viraat has established a legacy in the Indian Navy and I am sure Vikramaditya will be no different.

It is known that India is building her own development aircraft carriers (IAC, Project 71). How can the experience of construction, acceptance, setting into operation and initial operation of INS Vikramaditya affect the progress of the Indian aircraft carrier program?

The Indian Navy has maintained a continuous presence in the form of a Warship Overseeing Team at Severodvinsk since the inception of Project 11430. A large number of IN personnel have been since associated with the project. Having been associated with the various facets of refitting, reequipping, modernisation, trials and acceptance, the Indian Navy has accumulated considerable experience which is also providing valuable inputs for our development of the IAC Project. The cooperation received from our Russian friends at Sevmash, NDB, various OEMs has been significant and has added to our expertise in building such a complex ship. The conclusion of trials and operationalisation of Vikramaditya will be an enriching experience for the Indian Navy which will stand us well for our indigenous programme in the years to come.

What are the main tasks facing you as the Commanding Officer of the ship for the nearest, mid-term and farther perspective?

Since early 2012, numerous activities are being progressed concurrently and now with just days left for commissioning the focus is well defined. The crew had planned and organised the tasks over the entire period into various phases. The phase we are presently in is the Trials and Onboard Practical Training Phase. The two immediate and immensely important tasks for the Indian crew are, firstly to successfully complete the ship/flight trials and secondly progress Onboard Practical Training to suitably enable the ship’s crew to seamlessly takeover all the systems and control of the ship to operate and maintain the independently.

Source: Maxim Vorkunkov

The next is the Pre-Commissioning and Commissioning Phase whilst the preparations for the maiden passage would progress concurrently. Plans for these activities are already in progress. The mid and long term phase is the Aircraft Operationalisation and Integration Phase. In this phase the various aircraft and helicopters that are envisaged to operate from onboard would be integrated with the ship in India. This would also include the Deck Landing Qualification of MiG pilots. The last phase is the Induction into the Fleet. This is the culmination of years of work and the vision of our navy

wherein the actual combat exploitation of the ship would be realized. As you can see, the immediate period and the future have very interesting and challenging times in store. I am sure that with the highly motivated and professional crew, and support of my naval headquarters and home command, the ship would meet all its assigned tasks and goals.

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