Russia to drive hard bargain for aircraft carrier

June 17th, 2008 - 10:00 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, June 17 (IANS) Russia will drive a hard bargain in renegotiating the price of an aircraft carrier the Indian Navy has purchased and for which Moscow is seeking $1.2 billion over and above the $1.5 billion that had been agreed on, the country’s envoy here says. And, in a clear indication that the defence ties between the two countries were not what they were, Ambassador Vyacheslav I. Trubnikov hedged his bets on transferring technology for the T-90 main battle tank and for the cryogenic engine of the BrahMos cruise missile that India and Russia have jointly developed.

Trubnikov was addressing a press conference after inaugurating a swanky Russian Information Centre here Tuesday.

“It’s a complicated issue. There are objective and subjective factors,” the ambassador said while referring to the negotiations underway on the Russian demand for more money for the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov that has been renamed INS Vikramaditya.

“Our economy was in a very different condition (when negotiations for the ship had begun). Our shipyards were out of work. We agreed to the hard deal struck by the Indians,” the ambassador maintained.

“The reality is very different today. When we look at the figures, they are unrealistic as the scope of the work (involved in refurbishing the ship) was grossly underestimated,” Trubnikov added.

Under the original deal, India was to buy the carrier for $1.5 billion. Of this, $970 million was meant for the refurbishment of the vessel that has been mothballed since a devastating fire in the mid-1990s. The remaining $530 million was meant for the MiG-29K fighter jets, Kamov surveillance and anti-submarine warfare helicopters that will be deployed on the vessel.

The increased cost, the Russians now say, has been necessitated by the new engines and boilers the ship requires, “hundreds of miles” of cabling, the strengthening of the flight deck, refurbishing the arrester wires and other safety equipment, as also the extensive sea trials the ship will have to undergo after the refit.

Indian officials admit they would have to fork out more for the vessel but are not too sure of the figure.

“The figure of $970 million is perhaps not seriously doable,” Defence Secretary Vijay Singh had said in February on his return here from Moscow after discussions with the Russian authorities.

Independent analysts here point out that even if India were to meet the entire demand for the additional $1.2 billion, at $2.7 billion the ship would come at a bargain as the cost of building a new aircraft carrier is in the region of $4 billion.

Even as the price renegotiations are to conclude, work on refurbishing the ship is on in full swing at the Sevmash shipyard, one of Russia’s oldest and where most of its nuclear submarines have been built. The yard has 28,000 workers, of whom 1,200 have been deployed on the Vikramaditya.

The vessel’s 18-month sea trials are to begin in 2010, with delivery scheduled for 2012.

On the question of technology transfer, the ambassador chose his words with care.

“This is a technical issue that has to be addressed by the experts,” Trubnikov said.

India had purchased 310 T-90 tanks in 2001 and was to produce another 1,000 under licence. However, delays in the technology transfer prompted India to sign a contract with Russia in 2006 for 347 tanks to ensure adequate force levels.

In the case of the BrahMos missile, India’s defence scientists have repeatedly complained that Russia is not living up to its promise to transfer technology for its cryogenic engine.

“We have not got full technology transfer of the (missile’s) engines,” C.G. Krishnadas Nair, a former chairman of state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), had said at a seminar here that Defence Minister A.K. Antony inaugurated.

“We must have access to total technology. This denial is a serious matter,” Nair said, adding: “No one should hold the other to ransom.”

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