The trials of the Aviation Facilities Complex onboard the Admiral Gorshkov, part of the ongoing sea trials of the carrier, are set to begin next month. These trials will test and prove the operational status of the equipment crucial for aviation operations off the carrier.
Equipment and facilities like navigational and landing aids, directional and control systems, deck lighting, arresting gear system, restraining gear (which are the equivalent of hydraulic chocks before the nose wheel and one of the main wheels, imposed before take-off) will be tested in these trials, expected to be completed over a period of three months.
The trials will also include testing of the aircraft lifts, electrical and fuel supply lines as well as the armament lifts. Navigational data intended to be fed directly into aircraft onboard will be checked for integrity and consistence.
The sea trials of the Admiral Gorshkov began on June 8 and now the vessel will move from the White Sea to the Barents Sea for the scrutiny of the capability of the aviation element of the vessel. These trials will be held off Severomosk, close to Murmansk, primarily because the Barents Sea is not prone to freezing like the White Sea.
The trials of the aviation element at this stage are crucial because of the tight seasonal schedules. October onwards, daylight and visibility become problematic that far north.
Besides the independent stand-alone testing of these systems, there will be a gradual increase in the tempo and scale of the trials with aircraft conducting ‘Bolters’, or touch and go maneuvers, as confidence in the individual systems is increasingly assured.
One significant feature of the Admiral Gorshkov, which will be tested, is its Microwave Landing System (MLS), an innovation that is miles ahead of the more common Instrument Landing System (ILS). While the purpose of the two systems is the same, the MLS brings much greater capability as it is multi-directional, in comparison to an ILS which can only guide aircraft in single straight lines. This allows aircraft to be separated horizontally until imminent landing.
Something else which will be tested to the limit is the carrier’s Optical Landing System or OLS, which will provide pilots the terminal guidance for landing on the carrier.
Interestingly, the fighter aircraft involved in these trials will include one Russian MiG-29K (the surviving aircraft of two Russian, Low Series Production, or LSP aircraft) and a MiG-35 prototype, which was part of the Indian Air Force (IAF) tender for 126 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA).
Besides these, helicopter trials will also take place, involving choppers flying to various reference points around the carrier to pick up and check the signal strength of the radar and other sensors and systems that aircraft will need to rely on for operating off the carrier. The carrier is expected to accommodate more than 30 fighter aircraft, besides helicopters, once operational and commissioned into the Indian Navy.
Although there is a 10-15 member strong Indian Navy team participating and monitoring the trials, all aircraft will be flown by Russian test pilots. Besides these monitors, there are already around 500 Indian personnel onboard the carrier, which will be known as the INS Vikramaditya once it is commissioned into the Indian Navy. The commissioning, expected sometime in December, remains on schedule.
The Commanding Officer is Captain Suraj Berry, a specialist gunnery officer who commanded the frigate, INS Talwar, earlier, and was also Defense Attache to Sri Lanka. The CO of the aviation component is a former Sea Harrier pilot.