Russian carrier refit delays irk New Delhi

Oct. 4, 2012 at 9:38 AM
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NEW DELHI, Oct. 4 (UPI) -- Indian and Russian defense ministers met in New Delhi this week with disputes about the former Russian aircraft carrier, which is to become part of the Indiana navy, expected to be high on the agenda.

Analysts say prolonged delays in Russia's refit and delivery of the former Soviet aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov, now renamed INS Vikramaditya, are likely to draw much attention.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Russian Federation has become India's leading arms supplier. For 2012, a news release from the Center for Analysis of World Arms Trade stated, Russia "will supply arms and military equipment worth $7.7 billion to India, about 60 percent of Russia's total arms exports and 80 percent of India's arms imports."

The 44,000-ton INS Vikramaditya aircraft carrier's transfer to the Indian navy, scheduled for October 2013 after sea trials detected problems in the ship's propulsion system, is the largest element in the bilateral Russo-Indian arms trade.

The refit of the aircraft carrier is estimated to be the largest item in India's defense budget of Russian arms purchases.

A Russian naval official familiar with the sea trials said on condition of anonymity, told RIA Novosti that "seven out of eight steam boilers of the propulsion machinery were out of order." He said the reason for the boilers' failure was that India refused to use asbestos as insulation. That led the boilers' designers to use firebrick, which proved not to be sufficiently heatproof.

The 2004 contract for India purchasing the Russian aircraft carrier was originally for $947 million but its delivery has been delayed twice, raising the total cost of refurbishing the vessel to $2.34 billion, much to New Delhi's annoyance.

The delays in the aircraft carrier's refit at Russia's Sevmash shipyards in the White Sea will figure prominently in the discussions this month between Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony and Russian Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdiukov.

The government ministers are to be co-chairmen for a meeting of the India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation, New Delhi Television reported.

The discussions between Antony and Serdiukov are part of a series of preparatory consultations to set the agenda for the annual summit between the leaders of India and Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to visit India in November for discussions with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

During recent sea trials of the INS Vikramaditya in Russia, Indian navy officers observed test launches of a MiG-29K and a MiG-29KUB, both fourth-generation fighters, which performed 41 successful takeoffs and landings with full arms payload and additional fuel tanks.

The INS Vikramaditya is expected to be a replacement for the aging INS Viraat (R22), a Centaur class aircraft carrier and currently flagship of the Indian Navy. INS Viraat was completed and commissioned in 1959 as the British navy's HMS Hermes and was transferred to India in 1987.

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