Naval Air: Russia Makes Another Promise To India

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January 23, 2012:  In response to Indian pressure, a Russian shipyard official insisted that the refurbished (for India) Russian carrier Gorshkov would be turned over to India this December 4th. That's over four years late and more than a billion dollars over budget. On the plus side India will get a complete set of new blueprints for their Russian carrier. The blueprints, costing $85 million, are part of the cost overrun. New blueprints were needed because when the Russians began carrying out the original contract they discovered that the shipyard had lost the original blueprints and all copies.

The Indians are not amused by all this. Last year some senior Indian officials visited Russia to remind the Russians, in no uncertain terms, that the INS Vikramaditya (the former Gorshkov) must be ready by March 2012 for sea trials. That was the last date the Russians had promised to have the ship ready by.

The Indians had cause for concern. That's because last April the first 152 Indian naval personnel arrived in Russia to begin training on the Vikramaditya. The Indians were there to learn about all the ship's systems so they can instruct the other 1,250 members of the crew. But at the same time the Indian sailors could see exactly what progress the Russians were making on getting the Vikramaditya ready for service. Apparently some of these reports were not encouraging. This led to the high level delegation delivering stern reminders. The Russians responded by promising to do whatever needed to be done to have the carrier ready in time. But the Russian response was, in the end, to set a new deadline, December 4th.

This project is already four years behind schedule and $1.5 billion over the original budget. This has become a major cause of ill-will between Russia and India. This was made worse by revelations that Russian officials were bribing their Indian counterparts to help make up excuses for the delays. This was made public last year when, after a year of investigating the senior naval officer in charge of the aircraft carrier Gorshkov procurement project, it was determined that the officer (commodore, equivalent to U.S. rear admiral, Sukhjinder Singh) was guilty of something and he was dismissed from the navy.

The damage, however, has already been done. Three years ago India agreed, after years of haggling, to pay Russia an additional $1.3 billion to have the Russian aircraft carrier Gorshkov refurbished to Indian specifications. The original deal was for about a billion dollars. But once the Russians got to work things got complicated and out of control. Indians are not happy with the cost increase. Commodore Singh was a key part of the negotiations and there were accusations that he was paid off by the Russians to insure that Russia got the best of the deal. But Singh was dismissed mainly because he was found to be having an affair with a Russian woman. There was not enough evidence to prosecute him for corruption. India, however, wanted to send a message, especially in light of how much of a mess the Gorshkov project had become.

Other Indian naval officers have already admitted that they were partially to blame for the Gorshkov fiasco. They admit that when they signed the deal in 2004 Indian engineers had not closely inspected the Gorshkov and agreed, after a cursory inspection, that many electrical and mechanical components buried within the ship's hull were serviceable. It turned out that many of those components were not good-to-go and had to be replaced, at great expense. Shortly after the contract was signed the Russians discovered that the shipyard had misplaced the blueprints for the Gorshkov and things went downhill from there.

 


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