‘Russian aircraft carrier could cost India $2 bn more’

August 1st, 2008 - 10:05 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Aug 1 (IANS) India could end up paying a staggering $2 billion more for a Russian aircraft it has bought from Russia for $1.5 billion, a defence ministry source said Friday. “We are currently negotiating with the Russians and hope to put a cap of $2 billion on the additional cost of the carrier,” the source told IANS, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Once we reach agreement on the revised cost, we will obtain the concurrence of the finance ministry and then go to the cabinet (committee on security) to secure its final approval,” the source added.

The Russians had initially asked for an additional $1.2 billion but during talks between officials of the two countries, it emerged that this figure was unrealistic and that much more would be required before the 45,000 tonne carrier, re-christened INS Vikramaditya, could be made seaworthy.

“The cost of the sea trials have shot up considerably because of the sharp rise in fuel prices. This apart, much more cabling needs to be done than was originally estimated,” the source pointed out.

“This apart, considerable work needs to be done on strengthening the deck since it will be operating heavier aircraft than it was intended to deploy when it was originally built,” the source added.

A major reason for the cost escalation, another official pointed out, was that its blueprints had to be redrawn from scratch as the originals had disappeared.

“This is a very expensive and laborious process but is essential if the carrier is to be restored to its original glory,” the official pointed out.

Independent analysts here point out that even at $3.5 billion dollars, the ship would come cheap as the cost of a new carrier is upwards of $4 billion.

The Vikramaditya, originally named Admiral Gorshkov, has been mired in controversy ever since the $1.5 billion deal for the ship was signed in 2004.

Of this, a little over $900 million was to spent on refurbishing the ship and the balance on the MiG-29K Fulcrum fighters and the Kamov Ka-27 Helix-A and Ka-31 Helix-B reconnaissance and anti-submarine helicopters that would be deployed on board.

The carrier was originally to have been delivered in late 2007 or early 2008 but this has now been pushed back to 2012.

The delay has forced India to undertake an extensive refit of its lone aircraft carrier INS Viraat to prolong its service life till INS Vikramaditya is inducted.

Ironically, the first of the MiG-29s will begin arriving later this year and will be operated by the Indian Navy on land from its air station at Dabolim in Goa.

Commissioned in the mid-1980s, the carrier never saw active service with the erstwhile Soviet Navy and was mothballed after a devastating fire in 1994.

Meanwhile, India has asked Russia to make an advance payment of $250 million to the Sevmash shipyard in the Arctic Circle where the carrier is being refurbished, which will be adjusted when the two countries reach a final settlement on its price.

Russia has also discussed with India the manpower crunch at Sevmash and even suggested that technicians from Indian shipyards go and work there.

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