The long-delayed and much-awaited $2.3 billion aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya was on Saturday inducted into the Indian Navy in Severodvinsk, Russia, in a strategic boost to India's maritime warfare capabilities.
The mammoth 44,500-tonne warship was commissioned into the Indian Navy at the Sevmash Shipyard in this northern Arctic port at a handing over ceremony attended by Defence Minister A K Antony, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin and senior government and naval officials of the two countries.
The Russian flag on the vessel was lowered and the flag of the Indian Navy was raised in its place. In a traditional Indian ritual, a coconut was broken against the ship's side.
The commissioning papers were signed by deputy director of Russia's arms exporter Rosoboronexport, Igor Sevastyanov and the ship's captain Suraj Berry, Russia's RIA Novosti news agency reported.
The warship was first scheduled to be delivered in 2008, but the deadline was repeatedly postponed over the period.
The carrier will be escorted to India on a near two-month voyage by a group of warships to secure a safe sail to its base at Karwar on the Arabian Sea coast.
INS Vikramaditya is a Kiev class aircraft carrier which was commissioned by the Russian Navy in 1987 under the name Baku. It was later renamed as Admiral Gorshkov and last sailed in 1995 in Russia, before being offered to India.
The warship, with a length of 284 metres, will have MiG-29K naval combat aircraft along with Kamov 31 and Kamov 28 anti-submarine warfare and maritime surveillance helicopters.
The MiG 29-Ks would provide a significant boost to the Indian Navy with their range of over 700 nautical miles, extendable to over 1,900 nautical miles with mid-air refuelling, and an array of weapons like anti-ship missiles, beyond visual range air-to-air missiles and guided bombs and rockets.
After almost nine years of negotiations, the initial $1.5 billion contract for retrofitting the carrier and buying 16 MiG-29K, K/UB deck-based fighters was signed in 2004.
The aircraft carrier deal had become a major irritant in bilateral relations between India and Russia. By the end of 2007, when it became clear that Russia will not deliver the radically redesigned vessel by the 2008 deadline, ties dipped to an all-time low.
The two countries finally inked an additional agreement under which India agreed to pay a higher price for its refit.