The Prime Minister’s Office is likely to ask the Navy why the MiG-29K fighter aircraft could not operate from the deck of INS Vikramaditya during PM Narendra Modi’s visit on Saturday, a senior government official told HT.
The Navy had to abort plans to showcase take-off and landing of the fighters on the Russian-made aircraft carrier due to turbulent sea conditions.
The swell was 3.5-metres high due to a cyclonic storm in the Arabian Sea and the fo’c’sle (forward part of a ship) of warships accompanying the carrier could be seen bobbing up and down several feet, a senior Navy officer said. Authorising MiG-29K manoeuvres in the prevailing conditions would have amounted to violation of standard operating procedures, he said.
The PMO on Saturday had said Modi witnessed a “three-hour long breathtaking display of naval capabilities” onboard the 44,500-tonne warship amid heavy rain. The government official said the PMO wanted to know the exact nature of difficulty faced by the navy in operating the ship-borne fighters from the deck.
The PMO was also not too happy with “pudgy and rotund” personnel, including some officers, onboard, he added.
The Navy officer said some of the personnel needed to emulate Navy chief Admiral Robin Dhowan, who is fitter than officers half his age. Modi and Dhowan had appeared to hit it off on the warship, with the navy chief explaining every manoeuvre to the PM.
Modi witnessed MiG-29K fighters performing two overshoots (touch-and-go missions) on the flight deck. Western Fleet commander Rear Admiral Anil Chawla was standing on the warship’s bridge (the part of a vessel from where its movement is controlled) and personally overseeing every manoeuvre.
Navy pilots have carried out more than 100 take-offs and an equal number of landings on the $2.33-billion carrier in recent months.
The Navy could have overcome the sea conditions by diverting the course of the warship.
But it had no window to do so as the PM was on a tight schedule, said another senior officer.
“We did our best in the available time and sea conditions. Moreover, safety cannot be compromised when the PM is onboard,” he stressed.
The officer added that the navy would have unquestionably pushed the envelope had the carrier been on an operational deployment, but safety couldn’t be overlooked during a display for the PM. There was a possibility of launching fighters from the carrier, but recovering them with arrestor wires would have been highly risky due to the sea conditions.