Dreams take their time coming true, and sometimes some turn out to be too costly. India may have realised this the hard way, going by New Delhi’s decision to buy the decommissioned Soviet-era aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov from Russia. The latest on this is that India and Russia have ended their protracted dispute over the cost of the carrier, which will be now sold at a much higher price to the Indian navy in, hopefully, 2011. Indian Defence Secretary VK Singh announced on Wednesday after returning from Mos-cow, where both sides have agreed to a new undisclosed price for the 44,570-tonne vessel. To recall: the Gorshkov deal, which was signed in January 2004, required India to pay $ 1.5 billion for the ship’s refurbishment, along with 16 MiG-29K Fulcrum supersonic fighters and a mix of Ka-31 and Ka-28 helicopters to operate from its deck. The delivery date was fixed for August 2008. Last year, however, the Russians demanded double the money for installing new-generation air defence and other weapon systems, new engines, and communication systems.
While cost escalation is an inarguable factor, the sudden and steep price revision of what was supposedly a ‘fixed-price contract’ clearly smacked of iniquity. Especially given Russia’s wont to raise costs midway through defence projects, as happened in the Sukhoi-30MKI fighter contracts. No wonder India is increasingly disillusioned with Russia — that accounts for 70 per cent of India’s arms supplies — because of these delayed deliveries and commercial disagreements, and turning to other suppliers like the US, Israel, Britain and France.
The Gorshkov intrigue raises some uncomfortable questions about the country’s defence preparedness, given the navy’s plans to have two operational carrier battle-groups on each coast by the middle of the next decade. Ideally, India needs three carriers to realise its ambitions of being a ‘blue water’ naval power. After INS Vikrant, the navy was left with the ageing INS Viraat. And now with the indigenous Air Defence Ship still years away, it’s doubtful.