In a blow to the Indian Navy’s aircraft carrier programme, visiting Russian defence minister Anatoly Serdyukov on Wednesday confirmed that the Indian Navy would receive the aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya (formerly called the Gorshkov), only a year from now.
Business Standard had reported last month (September 18, 2012, ‘“Gorshkov curse” continues, aircraft carrier fails trials’) that the 45,000 tonne aircraft carrier, which Russia was to deliver to India in 2008, would now be delivered after October 2013, having suffered a major engine failure during ongoing sea trials in the Barents Sea.
On Wednesday in New Delhi, a visibly embarrassed Serdyukov admitted at a press conference, “We believe the transfer of the ship from Russia to the authorities in India will take place in the fourth quarter of 2013.”
His stony-faced Indian counterpart, AK Antony, who sat next to Serdyukov without looking at him, kept open the option of invoking a penalty clause in the contract which allows India to penalise Russia for the delay, to the extent of five per cent of the ship’s cost. Asked specifically about the penalty clause, Antony responded, “These are issues we will discuss later… not now. Now, our main concern is the early delivery (of the Vikramaditya).”
Adding to Antony’s discomfiture, Serdyukov also stated that the fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) India and Russia are co-developing, would only start production by 2020. In that case, it would not enter service with the Indian Air Force (IAF) before 2022-23. Antony has earlier stated the FGFA would join the IAF by 2017.
Serdyukov is in New Delhi for the 12th meeting of the India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission on Military Technical Cooperation, a government-to-government structure that India has only with Russia, its biggest arms market.
But the long-playing story of INS Vikramaditya continues to batter Russia’s image as an arms supplier to India. Besides the five-year delay (assuming the vessel is delivered next year), Russia has raised the cost of the Vikramaditya by as much as three-fold. In 2004, India signed an agreement to pay Russia $947 million to refurbish the Gorshkov, which the Russian Navy was not accepting after a boiler room explosion incapacitated the vessel. While the vessel itself has been given “free of cost”, the cost of refurbishing it has risen steadily to $2.3 billion. It remains unclear whether the new delay increases the cost further.
In giving India the Gorshkov “for free”, Moscow also got New Delhi to buy 16 MiG-29K/KUB fighters for $1 billion. In 2010, India paid another $1.2 billion for another 29 MiG-29K/KUB fighters.
But Serdyukov plays down the delay, claiming the Vikramaditya is “of the highest sophistication.” While admitting the engine failure was a setback, the Russian defence minister insisted that Russia would be “transferring an operable, perfect quality ship.” This, he said, would be ensured by extensive sea trials, in which over 11,000 nautical miles have already been covered in the White Sea and Baltic Sea.
Separately, in an interview to The Times of India, Russia’s deputy premier, Dmitry Rogozin, said, “Russia is the most consistent Indian partner and the Indian share in sensitive Russian military exports amounts to 30 per cent. In our military cooperation, we have never been driven by political ambitions or expediency. We have never supplied weapons to India’s opponents. From 2001 to 2010, contracts worth more than $30 billion were signed with over 20 inter-governmental agreements inked.”
Compounding the delay in the delivery of the aircraft carrier, the navy faces delays in inducting the INS Vikrant, the indigenous aircraft carrier being built by the Cochin Shipyard.
Originally slated to enter service in 2015, the indigenously built INS Vikrant will now be commissioned only in 2017 because of problems with its engines and gears, and an accident in which trucks that were transporting the ships generators from Pune to Kochi overturned en route, damaging the equipment.