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India Left Naked
by James Dunnigan
April 22, 2008

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India's sole aircraft carrier, the 29,000 ton INS Viraat, is going to spend the next 16 months in a shipyard getting maintenance and upgrades, leaving India with no carrier capability. This was to have been avoided by the timely arrival (this year) of the refurbished Russian carrier, the 44,000 ton Gorshkov, as the INS Vikramaditya. Under this plan, the INS Viraat was to be retired in 2012, after 53 years service (for Britain and India). But now the INS Viraat will get its engine and hull refurbished, and its electronics upgraded, and possibly serve for another decade.

Meanwhile, India has agreed to pay an additional billion dollars to complete the delayed refurbishment of the Russian aircraft carrier Gorshkov. The Russians not only demanded more money, but also admitted that a labor shortage would delay delivery until 2012. An Indian shipyard team will try to get the carrier out of the Russian yards earlier, and will also keep an eye on quality control.

The Russians have also admitted that the project also suffers from shoddy workmanship. The Indians have lots of experience with this sort of thing in Russian weapons, and will try to catch mistakes before the ship gets to India, hopefully in two or three years, rather than four. The Indians will also help with reconstructing the blueprints for the ship, which were apparently lost, and that contributed to the delay as well.

The new deal will cost $2.5 billion. This includes the purchase of the Gorshkov, and Russian shipyards performing repairs, modifications and upgrades. Another $800 milliom is to be spent on aircraft, weapons and equipment. Building a Gorshkov type carrier today would cost about $4 billion, and take several years more. India is building another carrier, from scratch, but that 37,000 ton vessel won't be ready until 2015.

The Admiral Gorshkov entered service in 1987, but was inactivated in 1996 (too expensive to operate on a post Cold War budget). The Indian deal was made in 2004, and the carrier was to be ready by 2008. But a year ago reports began coming out of Russia that the shipyard doing the work, Sevmash, had seriously miscalculated the cost of the project. The revised costs were more like $1.1 billion for the $700 million refurb. The situation proceeded to get worse, with Sevmash reporting ever increasing costs to refurbish the carrier.

The Indians were not happy, and at first insisted that the Russian government (which owns many of the entities involved) make good on the original deal. India sent its own team of technical experts to Russia, and their report apparently confirmed what the Russians reported, about shipyard officials low-balling the cost of the work needed. This is a common tactic for firms building weapons for their own country. It gets more complicated when you try to pull that sort of thing on a foreign customer. The Russian government will cover some of the overrun cost. The Sevmash managers who negotiated the low bid are being prosecuted.

Once refurbished, the Gorshkov, renamed INS Vikramaditya, should be good for about 30 years of service. That's because, after the refit, 70 percent of the ships equipment will be new, and the rest refurbished.

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