Home arrow Archives arrow Defence Notes arrow Defence Notes 2009 arrow Admiral Gorshkov:RUSSIA CORNERS INDIA FOR NOW,by Radhakrishna Rao,16 September 2009
News and Features
INFA Digest
Parliament Spotlight
Journalism Awards
Admiral Gorshkov:RUSSIA CORNERS INDIA FOR NOW,by Radhakrishna Rao,16 September 2009 Print E-mail

Defence Notes

New Delhi, 16 September 2009

Admiral Gorshkov


By Radhakrishna Rao

The Defence Ministry’s shoddy handling of the project for the acquisition of the retrofitted, decommissioned 45,000 tonne Kiev-class Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov has cast a shadow on Indo-Russian defence deals. It would not come as a surprise if Russia stands to lose its status as India’s largest defence partner in the none too distant a future.

Recently, in a scathing indictment the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has pointed out that delay in the delivery and cost escalation of this second-hand aircraft carrier has gone to defeat the objectives of the Navy. “The Indian Navy could have spent less in buying a new aircraft carrier with a longer lifespan,” observed the CAG report. As per the US$1.5-billion package deal signed in 2004, Russia was required to deliver the retrofitted carrier along with 16 Mig-29 K fighter aircraft and a complement of helicopters for anti-submarine and reconnaissance operations to the Navy by 2008.

In fact, the acquisition of Gorshkov renamed INS Vikramaditya was meant to replace the Navy’s solitary but ageing carrier INS Viraat. Anticipating a delay in the delivery of the retrofitted Gorshkov, the Navy has already carried out life extension programme for INS Viraat so that it could remain in service till 2015. Clearly, the Navy’s plan is to have two operational carrier battle groups by the middle of the next deal.

In particular, the CAG has noted that Admiral Gorshkov, which after retrofitting would remain seaworthy for 30 years, would have limited operational capabilities as certain critical elements like a close-in-weapon systems meant to detect and destroy incoming missiles could not be included. As such the contract was concluded without a provision for the inclusion of this important weapons system. Of course, by 2017, India plans to induct this system into its carrier on its own. The CAG has also wondered that “given the expected force level of Indian Navy by the time the aircraft carrier is inducted, it is not clear as to how the Navy would provide an adequate battle group for the carrier.”

It was also revealed that Sevmesh shipyard in North Russia, where this discarded former heavy cruiser given as “a gift by Russia to India’, was lying, had no idea of how to turn the cruiser into a carrier with an appropriate retrofitting. Ironically, a bankrupt Sevmesh shipyard, in northern Russia, on the verge of closure was saved by the Indian order for retrofitting Gorshkov.

On another front, the CAG found that the contract to buy Admiral Gorshkov as “most outrageous” since 60 per cent of the money for repair and retrofitting was paid when only 35 per cent of the work was completed. Though the Union Government did set up three committees to oversee the retrofitting work at the Russian shipyard, none of these could anticipate with clarity the problems till the Russian side, citing reasons such as underestimation of the magnitude of the work involved and violent fluctuations in the global currency market, came out with a demand for an additional US $1.2-billion above the cost envisaged in the original contract in November 2007. And to the chagrin of New Delhi, Moscow jacked up the demand to US $2-billion this February.

Worse, even as New Delhi and Moscow are yet to conclude their discussions to finalize the issue of the additional payment to complete the retrofitting of the aircraft carrier, sources at Sevmash shipyard have said that India has paid another US $102-million to speed up the retrofitting and augmentation work.

On their part, the Russians have said that the final cost of Gorshkov retrofitting has been arrived at based on the standards specified by the Government and there was little room to de-escalate the cost. The retrofitted Gorshkov, which is expected to be handed over by 2012, will also be subjected to extensive sea trials. The CAG report has indicated that the Defence Ministry has failed to include the charges by the Russian Navy for conducting sea trials of retrofitted Gorshkov.

India’s long felt plan to operate two aircraft carriers simultaneously with a view to emerge as a stabilizing force in the Indian Ocean and beyond and take care of the country’s interests over and above its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), has moved a major step forward with the laying the keel for homegrown air defence ship at Cochin shipyard in Kerala this February. This was confirmed by Defence Minister Antony when he said: “This is a crucial milestone, which will transform India into an aircraft-building nation. The carrier to be delivered by 2014 will enhance the Navy’s blue water capabilities. We hope to operate 2-3 carriers simultaneously in the none too distant a future.” The 37,000-metric tonne air defence ship is considered the precursor of bigger and more sophisticated aircraft carriers of the future.

So far the US, the UK, Russia and France have demonstrated a capability to build such an aircraft carrier. The Indian aircraft carrier will be designed to accommodate 12 Russian Mig-29Ks, eight indigenous made Tejas Naval fighter aircraft and 10 helicopters for operations like anti-submarine warfare and reconnaissance. However, defence experts point out that the Russian built Mig-29Ks are not contemporary state-of-the-art fighters good enough for operations from an aircraft carrier.

The delivery on lease to India of the Russian built Akula-II class Nerpa nuclear submarine has been postponed on the ground that the sea trials met with a mishap in the Sea of Japan in November last year. The 12,000-tonne class Nerpa submarine was to be delivered by mid-2009. Following the death of 20-members team in the mishap, the Amur shipyard of Russia is yet assemble a new team for going ahead with the trials. The Navy plans to use Nerpa to train its crew for the homegrown submarine being developed under the Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV) project.

In the ultimate analysis, the poor performance of many of the Russian supplied defence hardware, non-availability of spares and delay in the delivery schedule and the penchant for coming up with cost escalation halfway through the implementation of the project have not gone down well with the Defence Ministry. Importantly, what is of immediate concern to New Delhi is whether Moscow will be in a position to stick to the 2012 delivery schedule of Admiral Gorshkov? ---INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

< Previous   Next >
  Mambo powered by Best-IT