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China Defends Its Bricks
by James Dunnigan
October 29, 2012

China and Russia are arguing over the quality of Chinese firebricks. That's because last month Russia told India that delivery of the refurbished Russian carrier Admiral Gorshkov (since renamed the INS Vikramaditya) would be delayed another ten months. The problem was that seven of eight steam boilers in the carrier power plant failed during recent high-speed trials. The Russians blame India for this, as the Indians refused to allow the Russians to use asbestos to insulate nearby engine components from the intense heat generated by the steam boilers. Instead the Russians had to use firebrick which, as some engineers suspected, was not adequate. Now extensive work has to be done on the engines to rectify the problem.

The firebrick was bought from China and Russians now claim that the Chinese firm supplied defective firebrick. This dispute quickly escalated to the point where senior defense officials of both countries are hurling accusations and denials at each other via the media. Naturally this dispute invoked the "Chinese counterfeits" problem. China is the world leader in the production of counterfeit stuff. Not just luxury goods and high-end electronics but also aircraft and ship parts. Russian experts originally insisted that, even with good firebrick, the carrier engines really need asbestos. But some Russian shipyard officials blame poor workmanship, not substandard firebricks, for the engine failure. 

The engine problem was discovered during the sea trials that have been under way for several months off the north coast (Barents Sea) of Russia. In all other respects the ship appears to be in working order. For example, two months ago the carrier experienced its first landing by a MiG-29. However, the sea trials had been delayed over a month by bad weather. India is not happy with yet another delay.

The Gorshkov served in the Russian Navy from 1987 to 1995, but was then withdrawn from service because the navy could not afford to keep the carrier operational. Gorshkov was put up for sale in 1996 and in 2005. India agreed to buy the Gorshkov if a few changes could be made. India paid over $2 billion to refurbish the Gorshkov and turn it into the Vikramaditya.

Some of the Indian crew has been working with the Vikramaditya for over a year, learning about all the ship's systems, and now most of the other 1,250 members of the crew are present. India was supposed to take possession of the Vikramaditya by late 2012, but that was recently delayed until early 2013, and is now delayed until late 2013. This project is now five years behind schedule and $1.5 billion over the original budget. It is a major cause of ill-will between Russia and India and has now worsened relations between China and Russia.

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