Admiral Gorshkov is all at sea. A $ 1.2 billion deal signed between India and Russia in 2004 to re-equip the aircraft-carrier is in grave danger of collapse as Moscow demands an additional $ 1 billion and says delivery will be in 2012 and not as promised in 2008. In unusually candid remarks, Chief of Naval Staff Sureesh Mehta told the press on Monday, “The Navy line is that the government should not get into price negotiation at all. If today we reopen Gorshkov, tomorrow all our projects with Russia can be opened for renegotiation.”
Admiral Mehta’s comments suggest there could be a difference between other sections of South Block on what should be done about the deal. Given that India should have its indigenous aircraft carrier up and running by about 2012, the question being raised is a simple one: does the Navy actually need two aircraft carriers? But does the government have the political will not to push ahead with a deal where $ 400 million has already been paid out? The Russians have apparently conveyed to the Indians that some of the original designs of the Gorshkov have been misplaced. Delay, it seems, is built into the deal. Calling for a debate on where our relations with Russia were going, Admiral Mehta also said, “Over the years with our money, a lot of prosperity has come to their (Russian) shipyards. Now the shipyards have got more work and the workforce on the Gorshkov has gone down.”
Be it the Russians, the Israelis or the French, India, as a huge arms buyer, should be able to ensure both schedules and quality in all its armament deals. We must have contract clauses that protect Indian interests. And, if the seller is not prepared to put in the requisite clauses, India should exercise choice. Look elsewhere. With Russia, we’ve had a long defence relationship. But that’s no reason to condone cost escalation or delays. If the country stands to lose $ 400 million currently as opposed to getting a dud aircraft carrier some years later at a price tag of $ 2.2 billion, it’s better to cut our losses and run.