On January 20, 2004 India and Russia signed a deal to refurbish and convert the 40,000t Soviet/Russian Admiral Gorshkov into a full carrier by removing the guns, anti-shipping and anti-air missile launchers on the front deck, and replacing it with a full runway and ski jump, changing the boilers to diesel fuel, enlarging and strengthening the rear aircraft elevator, and many other modifications. The announced delivery date for INS Vikramaditya was August 2008 – an ambitious schedule, but one that would allow the carrier to enter service in 2009, around the time as their light carrier/LHA INS Viraat (formerly HMS Hermes, last of the Centaur class) was scheduled to retire.
The Viraat’s retirement is now set for 2010-2012. India Defence reports that delivery of the Vikramaditya must be pushed back until 2010, however, due to cabling issues. As the Russians seek to evade the terms of their deal and negotiations drag on, however, some estimates are placing the ship’s in-service date even later.
Right now, there are 2 major concerns in India. One is that slipping timelines could leave India without a serviceable carrier. The other is the extent of the increases, especially if more are added once India has paid for most of the budgeted work and is deep into the commitment trap. Current estimates place the overall cost of the refit as high as $1.35 billion, but figures are not final and time/money tradeoffs may well lie ahead. The initial reports sparked controversy in India, but even the Ministry has now admitted their veracity. The buy has now become the subject of high level diplomacy – and an amusing recent rationale from the Russians…
- Waiting for Gorshkov…
- INS Vikramaditya: Aerial Complement [updated]
- Updates & Contracts [updated]
- Additional Readings [updated]
According to the 2004 press release, INS Vikramaditya was supposed to enter the Indian Navy in August 2008. That looks almost certain to fail, but India’s Ministry of Defence initially denied reports of delays. Then, in May 2007, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Sureesh Mehta said the ships will be delivered:
”...by late 2008 or early 2009…. Our officials, who are stationed at the spot, have said that the work is going on as per schedule and we can have a month long delay once the work is completed as that part of Russia is frozen for a long time.”
Later comments on this issue included this May 1, 2007 quote:
“The work is only three to four months behind schedule and we can expect the aircraft carrier to be delivered by late 2008 or early 2009”
Subsequent updates, however, have proven the critics correct, with even the Ministry admitting as much. Cost estimates and reports vary from $800 million plus at least $113 million, to $980 million plus at least $350 million. DID’s experience with Indian defense procurement issues is that figures mean little, beyond defining broad orders of magnitude. Transparency will eventually come, but deals with Russia mean that it will come only from pressure within India, and then only after all other alternatives have been exhausted. Reports until then are really a set of varyingly educated guesses.
That there is a real issue of both time and cost, however, can no longer be denied. February 2008 news reports are giving figures of up to 3-4 years before refurbishment and testing are complete, and the refurbished ship can join the fleet. This would place its in-service data at 2011-2012, which risks a gap with no serving carriers in the fleet if further delays occur or the INS Viraat retires slightly early.
Meanwhile, China is working hard to refurbish the 58,000t ex-Russian carrier Varyag, and some analysts believe the ship could be operational in a testing capacity by 2010.
Note that these timelines and cost figures for delivery of the ship do not include aircraft, which are contracted separately. The original carrier’s complement was 12 Yak-38 Forger V/STOL fighters, 12 Ka-28 helicopters, and 2 Ka-31 airborne early warning helicopters. The removal of the Gorshkov’s forward missiles, ski ramp, and other modifications will improve the ship’s air complement somewhat. The nature of its original design, however, means that INS Vikramaditya will still fall short of comparably-sized western counterparts like the 43,000t FNS Charles de Gaulle nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, with its 40-plane complement that leans heavily to fighter jets. Ranges given for the refitted ship seem to average 12-16 fighters and 4-16 of the compact Ka-28/31 helicopters; diagrams of the refitted carrier seem to suggest total stowage space for a “footprint” of no more than 15-16 MiG-29Ks, with each Kamov helicopter sporting a comparative footprint of about 0.4 and about 5-6 open spots on deck.
A related $740 million contract for 16 MiG-29K aircraft plus training and maintenance was confirmed on December 22, 2004, with an option for another 30 MiG-29Ks by 2015. They will be operated in STOBAR (Short Take-Off via the ski ramp, But Assisted Recovery via arresting wires) mode, and the MiG-29K was reportedly selected over the larger and more-capable navalized SU-33 because India hopes to operate them from an indigenous smaller carrier as well.
The Vikramaditya’s complement will also include Kamov Ka-31 AEW and/or Ka-28 multi-role helicopters, along with a complement of torpedo tubes, air defense missile systems, et. al. If India does indeed buy E-2C+/E-2D Hawkeye naval AWACS aircraft, as is currently rumored, they would be added to this mix and take up footprint slots of their own.
Feb 7/08: Zeenews quotes an unnamed “Russian official” with interesting and somewhat unsettling arguments, in advance of a high-level delegation’s arrival led by Indian Defence Secretary Vijay Singh:
“Moscow feels that the agreement for supply of the 45,000 tonne warship was signed at a time when the Russian ship-building company was in bad shape and India “used” the situation to sign the contract at lower price. The ship-building company was facing closure and was ready to sign any kind of contract when the contract was signed.”
Defense Industry Daily needs to look up the exact definitions to be certain, but we believe this process is known as “shrewd negotiation,” followed by “a deal.” Indian Naval Chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta appears to be using the same lexicon, and has publicly said that there should be no revision to the Goshkov contract. Still, India cannot receive the carrier she wants if the shipyard goes bankrupt, and Russia is holding the carrier. This gives the Russians considerable leverage in negotiations, unless India can find an alternate provider. There may be a way out, however:
“But Russia is willing to “compensate” for the cost of Gorshkov if it gets more military orders, which Moscow insists is not linked to 126 fighter planes that India is planning to buy but other defence purchases.”
Nov 19/07: India’s MoD confirms delays in the Gorshkov’s delivery and slow progress, without really answering any questions. It acknowledges that the Russian side has submitted a revised Master Schedule, attributing the delays to “Growth of Work.” In response, an apex level Indian committee under the Defence Secretary, and a Steering Committee under a Vice Admiral, have been set up. A team has also been stationed at the shipyard.
No word on the timelines or costs suggested; indeed, these are likely to remain under negotiation. Indian MoD release.
Nov 6/07: A top-level Indian Navy delegation is heading for Moscow to discuss the delay and price escalation in the Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier deal. A detailed financial and technical plan outlining the specific justifications and amounts will be presented to the Indian side, who is there to listen rather than to negotiate.
The report pegs the original price quoted for refurbishing the carrier was just under $980 million, adding that the Russians are insisting on cost increases of at least $350 million. Indian officials reportedly fear that the final escalation may end up being much more once they are deep enough into the commitment trap of having paid for work. The report also adds that the Navy “had reconciled itself to the fact that the delivery of the ship would be delayed from the original deadline of August 2008 by a few years,” a surprising development given the limited service life of India’s remaining carrier. If the government is indeed prioritizing cost containment over delivery dates, reconciliation of the INS Viraat’s service life with Gorshkov’s entry may prove difficult. IDRW.
Oct 18/07: India’s MoD finally admits the obvious, as part of an announcement concerning an Indo-Russia fighter development deal. India MoD release:
“The Defence Minister described the Agreement on FGFA as a ‘major landmark’ and said that the Indo-Russian relationship is on a trajectory to reach new heights…. Mr. Antony expressed satisfaction at the outcome of discussions on other important projects e.g., supply and licensed production of T-90 tanks, SU-30 MKI aircraft and other strategic issues. He admitted that there has been a delay in the delivery of the repaired and refurbished aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov along with supply of deck-based fighter aircraft MiG-29-K and said it was decided that some more studies by technical groups would be done to go through the details. He appreciated the efforts made by the Russian side to resolve issues relating to life cycle support of equipment of Russian origin.”
June 16/07: India Defence: High Level Indian Delegation In Russia To Re-Negotiate Defense Deals Pricing:
“With differences over prices delaying the delivery of upgraded Sukhoi multi-role fighters and Gorshkov aircraft carrier, India today rushed a high-level defence team to Russia with fresh proposals to break the logjam…. The visit of the team assumes significance with Defence Minister AK Antony admitting that New Delhi was facing “problems” in acquisition of the carrier Gorshkov as well as in negotiating a new deal to buy 40 more upgraded Sukhoi-30 fighters for the Indian Air Force.”
May 17/07: India Defence: No Delays in INS Vikramaditya Acquisition from Russia: Defence Minister. “However, sources from the Indian Navy had earlier confirmed reports being circulated in the Indian and Russian media regarding a possible two year delay in the acquisition of the Aircraft Carrier.”
- Bharat Rakshak – INS Vikramaditya
- Naval Technology – Kuznetsov Class (Type 1143.5) Heavy Aircraft Carrying Cruiser, Russia
- Bharat Rakshak – INS Viraat (formerly HMS Hermes, last of the British Centaur Class).
- Bharat Rakshak – MiG-29K/KUB Fulcrum-D
- Air Force Technology – Ka-31 Radar Picket Naval Helicopter, Russia
- Bharat Rakshak – Kamov KA-31 Helix-B
- Air Force Technology – Ka-27/28 and Ka-29 Helix Naval Helicopters, Russia
- Bharat Rakshak – Kamov KA-28 Helix-A
- Asia Times (Aug 21/07) – India’s blue water dreams may have to wait. The Gorshkov isn’t the only carrier project in trouble. This article mentions the Gorshkov’s difficulties, and also details both the current state of the INS Viraat and difficulties with India’s smaller 37,500t indigenous carrier, which is reportedly slipping its schedule badly and will only be ready by 2015 at the earliest, instead of 2012