Some good news on the Indian aircraft carrier front. Admiral Gorshkov (renamed INS Vikramaditya) began its final sea trials (expected to last three months) on July 4 in the White Sea off northern Russia. Over a thousand major parameter checks and other standards of weapons, flight operations, propulsion, onboard systems and communications are to be met during these tests. The 44,570 tonnes modified Kiev Class carrier was ordered at an initial cost of $934 million in 2004 to be refitted at the Sevmash shipyard in Severodvinsk and delivered in 2008. Instead, the cost has escalated to $2.33 billion with final delivery scheduled for the end of this year. It seems that we went by our usual rule of giving the contract to the lowest bidder rather than doing an evaluation of the shipyard's capabilities.
Orders were also placed with Russia for procuring 45 MiG-29K naval combat aircraft. Deliveries of these planes have already started. The weaponry and missile launcher tubes on the ship's foredeck have been removed as part of the upgrade to make way for a short take-off but assisted recovery (STOBAR) configuration. This will convert the Gorshkov from a hybrid carrier/cruiser to a pure carrier.
Carrier battle groups project offensive air power as well as take the battle to the enemy. In this context it is useful to remember that the Chinese are pursuing an active carrier-building programme after inducting their first such ship, the 65,000 tonne Liaoning in 2012. India has opted for a three-carrier fleet consisting of one carrier battle group stationed on each seaboard, and a third carrier held in reserve, in order to continuously protect both its flanks as well as economic interests and mercantile traffic, and to provide humanitarian platforms.
The managing director of the Ex-servicemen Contributory Health Scheme (ECHS), General J George has informed veterans of the latest steps taken to streamline the organisation's functioning. Ten regional centres are already online for billing, with steps being taken to bring the remainder also online by October 1. This will speed up the processing and payment of empanelled facilities' bills.
Empanelment of medical facilities is being speeded up with 52 additional medical facilities being empanelled. Another 39 facilities have been added and government orders for the same are being issued at the earliest. Stations without adequate facilities are being given special attention.
Around 352 out of 426 polyclinics have already been made functional. Action is being taken to operationalise the rest with automation in full swing. The ECHS management information system has been installed at 127 polyclinics. The endeavour is to have all polyclinics automated by the year end. The required hardware is already being procured.
Medical equipment required by polyclinics is being procured by the office of DG, Armed Forces Medical Services, on a fast-track basis. Veterans are requested to upgrade their cards as medicines drawn by the beneficiaries and doctors' prescriptions will be stored in their ECHS cards once the polyclinics are fully automated.