The Navy’s plans to acquire second-hand Russian aircraft carrier, Admiral Gorshkov, have run into rough weather with the country threatening to call off the deal if India does not fork out an extra $2 billion.
Russian state news agency RIA Novosti quoted a defence ministry official in Moscow as saying the aircraft carrier would be transferred to the Russian Navy if India did not agree to pay the revised cost.
The aircraft carrier deal now carries a price tag of over $3.5 billion. India had contracted the Gorshkov deal for $1.5-billion in January 2004.
Aside from the refit of the 45,000 tonne carrier, commissioned in 1987, the deal included 16 MiG-29 fighters, six Kamov helicopters, training for pilots, simulators and spare parts. Navy chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta had said last December that there could be no renegotiation on the price of the aircraft carrier for which India had made advance payment.
Around a year ago, Russia had demanded an additional $1.2 billion to refurbish the warship at the Sevmash shipyard in Severodvinsk. New Delhi appeared to have reconciled to the price hike then with the defence ministry officials claiming that a Gorshkov-like carrier, without the embarked fighters, would cost upwards of $ 4 billion.
The threat to scrap the deal comes at a time when Indian Navy pilots are training in Russia for the induction of the MiG-29 fighters to be based in Goa until Gorshkov arrives.
The defence ministry had in early 2008 constituted a team under Vice-Admiral Dilip Deshpande, controller, warship production and acquisition, to examine the reasonableness of Gorshkov’s cost before the modified contract is put up before the Cabinet Committee on Security.
Navy sources said Russia was resorting to pressure tactics to jack up the warship’s price. “Price re-negotiation is at an advanced stage at the highest level. It’s a strange demand.”
The aircraft carrier would be ready by 2010 after which it would undergo 18 months of extensive sea trials by the Russian navy along with their Indian counterparts. Its delivery schedule has been pushed back to 2012. The warship was supposed to join the Indian fleet by August 2008. Moscow had previously demanded an extra US$ 1.2 billion for carrying out complex cabling work, replacing boilers and turbines and strengthening the warship’s flight deck for embarked fighters.