INS Vikramaditya: Waiting for Gorshkov…

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CV Admiral Gorshkov
Adm. Gorshkov: Before.
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Sea trials delayed. (Oct 16/11)
This free-to-view DID Spotlight article offers an in-depth look at India’s troubled attempt to convert and field a full-size aircraft carrier, before time and wear force it to retire its existing naval aviation and ships.
Right now, there are 2 major concerns in India. One is slipping timelines. The other concern involves Vikramaditya’s 3-fold cost increase, including worries that Russia will raise it rates yet again once India is deeper into the commitment trap. The carrier purchase has now become the subject of high level diplomacy, involving a shipyard that can’t even execute on commercial contracts. Russian demands continued to raise the price, even as deliveries of India’s new MiG-29K naval fighters got underway. A revised deal was finally signed in March 2010 – but now Russia still has to make good…

Waiting for Gorshkov – A History

CV Vikramaditya Model
After.
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DII-QV
On Jan 20/04 India and Russia signed a $947 million deal to refurbish and convert the 40,000t Soviet/Russian Admiral Gorshkov into a full carrier, to be re-named INS Vikramaditya. The Vikramaditya project involves extensive modifications to the original ship. The cruiser-carrier’s guns, anti-shipping and anti-air missile launchers on the front deck are being removed and replaced with a full runway and ski jump, the deck must be widened in numerous places, its boilers are being changed out to run on diesel fuel, the rear aircraft elevator is being enlarged and strengthened, and other modifications like wiring replacement are necessary to make Gorshkov a fully modern ship.
Initial reports of delays sparked controversy and denials in India, but subsequent events more than justified them. The INS Viraat’s retirement was moved to 2010-2012 – but it soon became clear that even that might not be late enough. Slow negotiations and steadily-lengthening delivery times quickly pushed delivery of the Gorshkov back to 2010, and then to 2012 or later, even as Russia’s asking price more than doubled. Cost estimates and reports concerning the Gorshkov’s final total now hover in the $2.9 billion range, following the revised project agreement of March 2010.
In many ways, the Vikramaditya story is sadly typical.
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 29,000t light carrier INS Viraat (formerly HMS Hermes, last of the Centaur class) was scheduled to retire. The new carrier would berth at the new Indian Navy facility in Karwar, on India’s west coast.
As is customary with Indian defense procurement, transparency arrived only after after all other alternatives had been exhausted.
When reports first surfaced that this delivery date would not be met, India’s Ministry of Defence initially tried to deflect the issue with denials and obfuscation. 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 1/07 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”
Neither assessment turned out to be true, and subsequent updates proved the critics to be correct. After the delivery delays could no longer be denied, the initial approach was to minimize their length. February 2008 news reports, however, began to give figures of up to 3-4 years before refurbishment and testing could allow the ship to enter service. Subsequent reports by Indian and Russian sources stressed 2012, or even later. India’s sunk construction costs, Russian possession of the Gorshkov, the difficulty in finding a substitute carrier to replace the Gorshkov sooner than 2013, and the Chinese push with the Varyag, have all combined to give the Russians substantial leverage in their negotiations. They have exploited that leverage to the fullest.
That created a gap with no serving carriers in the fleet. INS Viraat was scheduled to retire in 2009, but events forced India to extend that schedule with another refit, leaving the country without a carrier for almost a year. Even with the refit, Viraat nearing the limits of her mechanical life, even as shortages of flyable Sea Harrier fighters are creating issues of their own. Meanwhile, the delivery date for India’s locally-built 37,000t escort carrier project appears to be slipping to 2015 or so. This leaves India’s Navy with a serious scheduling problem, and no significant carrier force.
An official Indian CAG report adds that even when inducted, Vikramadirya will have no aerial defenses until 2017 – whereupon it is scheduled to be retrofitted with only a last-ditch CIWS gun system.
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 2010-11.

Gorshkov-Vikramaditya: Aerial Complement

Russian Ka-31 AEW
Ka-31 AEW
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Many of Gorshkov’s key modifications are aircraft-related, including the new arrester gear and ski jump. New boilers and wiring are the other major components. The timelines and cost figures for delivery of the ship do not include the aircraft, however, which are bought 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, addition of the 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. For instance, the Gorshkov would be large enough to operate full naval AWACS aircraft, but it lacks a launch catapult. If rumors prove true and India does indeed buy E-2C+/E-2D Hawkeyes, therefore, they would probably operate from shore. The carrier’s AEW complement, if any, is almost certain to use India’s Ka-31 helicopters.
Carriage ranges given for the refitted Vikramaditya seem to average 12-24 fighters and/or 4-16 of the compact Ka-28/31 helicopters; diagrams 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 5-8 open footprint spots on deck.
MiG-29K
MiG-29K 3-view
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Vikramaditya’s fighters will also be Russian. A related $740 million contract for 16 MiG-29K (12 MiG-29K, 4 two-seat MiG-29KUB) aircraft plus training and maintenance was confirmed on Dec 22/04, and the contract’s option for another 29 planes, rumored to be worth $1.2 billion, will bring India’s planned MiG-29K fleet to 45. The MiGs would be operated in STOBAR (Short Take-Off via the ski ramp, But Assisted Recovery via arresting wires) mode, and the design was reportedly selected over the larger and more-capable SU-33 naval fighter because India also hopes to operate them from smaller “Project-71 Air Defence Ship” indigenous carriers.
Vikramadirya will reportedly be delivered with a radar, but no aerial defenses. A last-ditch CIWS gun system, which might be the Russian SA-N-11 Kashtan-M combination gun/ short range missile system, is reportedly scheduled as a refit around 2017.

Contracts & Key Events

Eurofighter CV
Navalized Typhoon concept
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Oct 16/11: Indian media report that Vikramaditya’s sea trials will be delayed 5-6 months, to February or March 2012, because open sea trials aren’t possible from Severodvinsk in northern Russia during the winters. Instead, the ship will do everything they can in the harbor, then hold sea trials when the ice is out.
PTI was told by “senior Defence Ministry sources” said the change in trial plans will not affect the delivery schedule of the aircraft carrier – but then, they have been wrong and even misleading before. The more puzzling question is why it took until October 2011 to realize that conducting sea trials in northern Russia, in November, is unworkable. PTI | Voice of Russia.
Aug 3/11: RAC MiG CEO Sergei Korotkov places the number of MiG-29Ks delivered to date at 11, with the initial order’s other 5 slated to arrive by the end of 2011. Work of the 2nd MiG-29K order of 29 planes is just beginning. AFP | domain-b | Hindustan Times | Voice of Russia.
Aug 2/11: The Indian MoD offers an official update of progress on the Vikramaditya – and its smaller cousins:
“Consequent to signing of Supplementary Agreements in March, 2010, the Russian side has increased the manpower and material resources considerably for the Project. A majority of the equipment/systems have been installed on board the ship. The delivery of ship is scheduled in December, 2012.
Regarding the ‘Air Defence Ship’ [DID: 35,000t carrier] being constructed at Cochin Shipyard Limited (CSL), 75% of hull work has been completed and is expected to be launched in December 2011, after which further works will be undertaken prior to commissioning…. indigenous Aircraft Carrier-sized ships can [now] be built at CSL. Additionally, Indian-manufactures warship quality steel is now available, which will reduce dependence on foreign countries.”
June 23/11: A Prototype MiG-29KUB trainer crashes in Russia. The plane was a test aircraft belonging to RAC MiG, and the company advised the Indian Navy to temporarily suspend MiG-29K operations until the crash’s causes were known.
India asked for a detailed report, and according to the MoD, the crash wasn’t because of a structural failure in the air, engine failure, or avionics/ systems failure. By June 28/11, RAC MiG advised that MiG-29K flights could resume if India wished. India MoD.
May 30/11: RAC MiG announces that they delivered a new batch of 5 MiG-29K/KUB carrier-based fighters to the Indian Navy in May, along with a flight training simulator and other technical equipment. That’s on top of the first 4 aircraft, which officially entered service with the “Black Panthers” naval squadron in February 2010, and makes 9 of 12 delivered on the initial carrier/aircraft contract.
The March 2010 contract for 29 more MiG-29K Fulcrum-Ds won’t begin delivery until 2012. Economic Times of India.
April 4/11: The Admiral Gorshkov is expected is to reach Murmansk in November 2011, as it heads to Murmansk ship-repair yard # 35 from Sevmash. The carrier is expected to undergo further upgrades and performance testing. Barents Nova.
Feb 21/11: Aero India 2011 sees Eurofighter and BAE unveil an interesting wrinkle: an initial design for a navalized Eurofighter than can operate from aircraft carriers, based on an internally-funded set of studies and simulations. In a direct nod to potential Indian sales, they tout the plane as being able to take off from “ski jump” carriers without catapults – a design that describes all of India’s current and planned carriers, but not the French carriers that launch the Rafale fighter.
Eurofighter GmbH descirbes the goal as 95% commonality with land-based aircraft, and required changes as “limited… include a new, stronger landing gear, a modified arrestor hook and localised strengthening on some fuselage sections near the landing gear, as well as updates the EJ200 engines,” which could include thrust-vectoring in flight.
The Eurofighter and Rafale are later picked as India’s 2 finalists for its M-MRCA fighter competition. Eurofighter GmbH | India Defence.
MiG-29KUB
MiG-29KUB: early flight
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Aug 9/10: Indian Commodore Sukhjinder Singh, who was a key person in the Gorshkov refit program from 2005-2009, has reportedly handed in his resignation after reports of his illicit affair with a Russian woman (vid. April 12/10 entry). The inquiry by Indian naval HQ established the relationship with the woman, but ruled out court martial as they couldn’t establish the woman’s status as an agent, or anything untoward beyond a romantic relationship.
The findings of the Board of Inquiry will have to be acted upon by chief of naval staff Admiral Nirmal Verma, who must also decide whether and how to accept the Commodore’s resignation. On the bright side, at least he didn’t hire Jodie Fisher. See: DNA India.
Aug 3/10: A CAG report says that Indian naval aviation has suffered in recent years, and the current state of the Sea Harrier fleet makes it clear that on-time induction of MiG-29Ks into the fleet will be critical. Read “India’s Sea Harrier Shortage” for more.
April 12/10: The inquiry against Commodore Sukhjinder Singh has established his `amorous relationship’ with a Russian woman, and India’s naval brass are considering punishments. Meanwhile, he has been relieved of his current posting in the defence ministry’s directorate-general of quality assurance.
Singh oversaw the Gorshkov refit project in Russia from 2005-2007, and was the project’s principal director in India from 2007-2009. That gave him no role in price negotiations, but there is more than casual concern that he may have been “honey trapped” by an FSB agent to give details of India’s negotiating position. Explicit photographs with this russian woman surfaced recently in the media, and formed part of the “clinching evidence’’ in the just-concluded naval Board of Inquiry (BoI).
Defence minister A K Antony said that “Nothing beyond [a romantic relationship] has been proved so far. I do not want to jump the gun. I have asked Navy to finish (the inquiry report) as quickly as possible. I do not want to draw any conclusions prematurely. Once the Navy completes everything, we will take a decision.’’ Current Affairs (incl. Times Now video) | DNA India | India Server | India TV | Kalyugikalki | The Times of India | Hindustan Times.
March 11-13/10: India’s Cabinet Committee on Security approves a new $2.33 billion price for the Gorshkov refit, a rise of over 140%. Russian President Vladimir Putin is currently visiting India, and is expected to sign a number of defense contracts, including the revised Gorhkov pact and a contract for another 29 MiG-29Ks. The Gorshkov agreement is signed on March 13/10, and the carrier’s delivery date is now 2013. Indian Express | Russia’s RIA Novosti | Sify | Zee News || Putin visit: Calcutta Telegraph | DNA | Economic Times of India | Sify || Post-Signing: Indian government PIB release | DNA India | Times of India.
Feb 19/10: India inducts its first 6 MiG-29Ks into service at INS Hansa in Goa – and apologizes to Goa’s citizen’s for the unannounced sonic booms they’ve experienced over the past few days. Defence Minister Antony also confirms India’s intent to buy anther 29 fighters, raising the Navy’s MiG-29K fleet to 45. ANI | Economic Times of India | Indian Express | Sify | Times of India | NDTV video – note that aerial footage is of India’s Kiran trainers instead.
Feb 15/10: Russian deputy service director Alexander Fomin is quoted as saying that Russia and India will sign a supplementary agreement to finish upgrading the Admiral Gorshkov “in February-March this year.” Time will tell. RIA Novosti.
Jan 17/10: Reports surface that India will “soon” finalize a $1.2 billion deal with Russia to buy 29 more MiG-29K jets, which would bring India’s order total for the carrier capable STOBAR (Short Take-Off But Assisted Recovery) fighters to 45. Russia’s RIA Novosti | domain-b | India’s Economic Times | Press Trust of India | Times of India | UPI | Associated Press of Pakistan.
Jan 16/10: Admiral Admiral Nirmal Verma tells the media that there is still no final deal:
“I cannot speak anything about the final pricing till the government’s approval is announced. But, yes, for any of these major induction programs, we have a price negotiation committee, which has done its job and a mutually agreed price has been arrived at.”
See: Press Trust of India | Times of India | Barents Observer | China’s Xinhua.
Dec 5/09: Reports surface once again that India and Russia have reached an agreement on the Vikramaditya’s price. This time, they may even be true. Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said that during summit-level talks between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev:
“Both the leaders discussed the [Vikramaditya] issue and noted excellent progress on negotiations on price and technical issues which have been brought to a successful conclusion.”
The actual price in question is not discussed, and that political rapprochement may not be shared by the Navy. Defence Minister AK Antony has publicly distanced the Government from Naval Chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta’s recent public hard line regarding the Gorshkov’s price, and suggestions that India reassess its defense ties with Russia owing to quality issues. Adm. Arum Prakash also issued a warning, saying that: “The long-term price that we pay for 25 years of mischief, of twisting our arm will be much more than what we pay now.”
See: domain-b | Economic Times | Hindustan Times | IANS re: Rao quote | IANS re: Adm. Verma || Naval Spat: IBN Live | IBN Live quotes Adm. Mehta & Prakash.
Dec 4/09: Ending a year-long wait, the first batch of MiG-29K naval fighter jets, purchased from Russia for the Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier, arrive in Goa in a “knocked down condition” packed in containers on board an AN-124 cargo aircraft. Press Trust of India.
Nov 30/09: Defence Minister Shri AK Antony, in a written reply to the Lok Sabha (India’s Parliament):
“The Russian side had submitted a revised Master Schedule indicating delay and increase in prices for repair and re-equipping of aircraft carrier ex-Admiral Gorshkov. The Government has agreed to conduct negotiations for finalizing a revised Repair and Re-equipping contract. Negotiations are in progress with the Russian side. Details of final prices would be known only after completion of these negotiations.
An exhaustive list of equipment to be fitted on the ship was included in the original contract. The Aircraft Carrier is scheduled to be inducted in December, 2012.”
Nov 16/09: Amidst rumors of major British defense budget cuts, The Guardian reports that India has expressed formal interest in the 65,000t CVF/Queen Elizabeth class carrier program. The UK MoD is desperately looking for long-term budget savings, but canceling either of its full-size carriers at this point would be rival the cost of finishing them:
“According to senior defence sources, Whitehall officials are examining the feasibility of selling one of the carriers. It is understood they are planning to put forward the option as part of the government’s strategic defence review, which will start early next year…. “Selling a carrier is one very serious option,” a defence source said this weekend, although the government is a long way from committing to any sale. It could take between six and 12 months to reach a decision, he added.”
Each Queen Elizabeth carrier costs about $3.5 billion, and the negotiating difference around the Admiral Gorshkov is currently around $2.2+ billion. The question is whether India would be able to buy one of the CVF carriers for less than the UK paid, in order to offer the Treasury monies that it could not otherwise obtain from the CVF program. If a refund could be forthcoming from the Russians, and a deal done with the British, investing the Vikramaditya’s $3 billion could net India a completely new ship rather than an old and refurbished one, with double the Gorshkov’s aerial complement. Key questions include whether those deals could be secured, and whether India is prepared to wait until 2016 for the British carrier, as opposed to 2013 (and sliding…) for Gorshkov.
Then again, $2.2 – $2.5 billion could also secure India an America class light carrier from Northrop Grumman, with a similar tonnage and aerial complement to the Gorshkov, but markedly better electronics and defensive systems. If India begins to look beyond Russia for options, Britain’s CVF program is not its sole alternative.
Nov 1/09: The Times of India reports that INS Viraat is now on the verge of completing its sea-acceptance trials and work-up phase, after an 18-month-long comprehensive refit and upgrade program in Mumbai and Kochi. This will give India an aircraft carrier again. The 28,000-tonne carrier will complete its 50th year as an operational warship in November 2009, having serves as both HMS Hermes and INS Viraat.
Oct 23/09: A British BBC report explains some of the hurdles on the road to Vikramaditya’s delivery:
“In this hurry [on both sides to sign a deal], fine points including the ones relating to what was expected of Russia were overlooked…. India agreed to buy and get a ship refurbished without Gorshkov’s design [presumably means a detail design blueprint].... When the ship was ripped open, it was found that the wiring was ageing and needed to be redone. A Japanese contractor awarded the rewiring contract found the job overwhelming – given the costs involved – and left. Now a new contractor has been found for the purpose. Gorshkov’s steel plates and machinery, too, needed to be pulled apart and new ones fitted…. With Gorshkov’s induction delayed, the government decided to refit its only aircraft carrier, INS Viraat, but it will not be operational till 2015. That leaves the Indian navy with no aircraft carrier for some time.”
Oct 15/09: Despite prior reports that an agreement on the Vikramaditya’s final cost would be reached during Defence Minister A.K. Antony’s 2-day visit to Moscow, India and Russia have failed to reach agreement. Negotiations will continue. India MoD | Indo-Asian News Service.
Sept 24/09: Russia’s Vedemosti newspaper reports that the Russian Navy may decide to replace its 19 larger and longer-range SU-33 fighters on its Admiral Kuznetsov carrier with 24 MiG-29Ks, when the SU-33’s must be retired in 2015. Caution is advised, since the article is based on a source who sees a contract as possible in 2 years; that’s not exactly a rock-solid basis for concluding that India will avoid the potential trap of being the MiG-29K’s only operator. Vedemosti [in Russian] | Barents Observer.
Sept 3/09: Indian media report that a deal to finish the Vikramaditya refit is expected by mid-October 2009. Some caution is advised, as past reports and predictions in this area have later been proven false by events. India’s Business Standard | The Hindu | Hindustan Times.
Aug 16/09: Indian media report that the government has cleared a $122 million bridging payment for continued modification work on the Gorshkov, while negotiations continue. The payment was sanctioned in early August, following demands by Rosoboronexport. domain-b | Economic Times of India.
July 31/09: India’s Business Standard conducts an interview with Russia’s outgoing ambassador to India, Vyacheslav Trubnikov. Excerpts:
”[VT] Not changing [the Gorshkov order], but the Indian Navy was eager to get the best, the most modern equipment [to insert into the hull].
[IBS] So the Navy’s appetite kept increasing, they wanted more and more..
[VT] Yes.

[BS] Reports are that it will cost around $2.2 billion?
[VT] It would be irresponsible of me to comment. Price negotiations are now entering the final stage. What is important for India is also the time of delivery. But the point is that if India wants additional equipment, the carrier will cost even more. So if both sides stop and decide, okay no request from India and no increase in price from our side, then we can finalise price and delivery.”

July 29/09: The CAG report begins to generate political opposition to the Gorshkov deal, as well as media op/ed calls for a re-think. In the course of one such op-ed, The Hindustan Times offers a report on the negotiating spread:
“The Russians now want $2.9 billion (Rs 14,500 crore) for the warship, while the defence ministry is bargaining for $2.2 billion (Rs 11,000 crore). [Defence Minister Antony said that] “The Russians have demanded a substantially huge amount. We are still negotiating the deal. No final decision has been taken.”
July 25/09: India’s Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) issues a scathing report, saying that:
“The objective of inducting an aircraft carrier in time to fill the gap in the Indian Navy has not been achieved. The cost of acquisition has more than doubled [from $875 million] to $1.82 billion (Rs. 7,207 crore) in four years. At best, the Indian Navy would be acquiring, belatedly, a second-hand ship with a limited life span, by paying significantly more than what it would have paid for a new ship…”
The largest cost escalation is in sea trials, which have risen from $27 million to $500 million, and the CAG report sharply criticizes the Navy for poor project supervision practices. The report adds that planning failures will leave the warship with no air defense upon delivery, and only a Close-In Weapon System (CIWS) when one is retrofitted in 2017. Risks are also cited with respect to the aircraft arresting gear, which has not been finalized due to development problems. India CAG – they do not archive reports | DNA India | The Hindu | Indian Express | Rediff | Times of India | Agence France Presse.
May 25/09: Indian media report that the government has decided to speed up renegotiation with Russia, after a recent Moscow trip undertaken by defence secretary Vijay Singh failed to break the long-standing deadlock. The government has reportedly scheduled 3 visits to Russia by Indian officials, in hopes of sealing the deal by the end of July 2009. During those visits, they will also discuss the larger subject of Indian-Russian defense relations.
Another senior official of the Controller of Warship Production and Acquisition will reportedly visit Russia in the middle of June 2009, to work out the warship’s hoped-for 2011 trials in Barents Sea. Assuming that a deal can in fact be reached this time. Times of India.
April 6/09: India inaugurates the first phase of the MiG-29K maintenance and and training facility at the INS Hansa naval base in Goa. Vice-Admiral J. J. Bedi, Commander-in-Chief of India’s Western Naval command, is quoted as saying that:
“This is the first time in my service career of 40 years that I witness construction and availability of major infrastructure project prior to the induction of hardware in the Indian Navy.”
He expects the first batch of 4 aircraft to be “with us by middle of this year.” The Hindu.
March 16/09: Still no agreement on the Gorshkov refit. Meanwhile, The Times of India reports a Russian decision to ground its MiG-29 fleet, following accidents caused by the disintegration of the planes’ tail fins. It quoted an unidentified “senior officer,” who said that:
“We continue to fly our MiG-29s…. Our checks are stringent since we operate our MiG-29s also from coastal airbases (Jamnagar) and Russian metallurgy is susceptible to salinity.”
That’s a somewhat worrying assertion, in light of the MiG-29K naval buy. India is scheduled to finish its MiG-29A upgrades to MiG-29SMT status in 2014, thanks to a contract signed in March 2008. That effort will not be delayed by the news from Russia, but the news will reportedly delay delivery of the new MiG-29Ks to the Indian Navy.
Feb 28/09: The keel for India’s first “Project-71” 37.5t-40t indigenous carrier project is laid at the Cochin Shipyard in Kerala. The new carrier will be named INS Vikrant, after the 20,000t World War 2 era carrier HMS Herculaeus that was sold to the Indian Navy, and served as the Vikrant (from Sanskrit vikranta, “courageous/ victorious”) from 1961-1997. Ptoject-71 currently has a budget of INR 32.6 billion (currently about $650 million), but few observers believe that the final cost will remain on budget.
Delivery is scheduled for 2014-2015, and these carriers are expected to carry their own complement of MiG-29K fighters. Plans exist for a naval variant of India’s LCA Tejas lightweight fighters, but India’s history of extremely late and failed weapons projects suggests caution. Even a successful project is unlikely to induct a naval Tejas before 2016-2018, leaving both of India’s future carrier classes strongly dependent on Russian goodwill. The Hindu | Indian Express | Sindh Today.
Feb 23/09: Indian media report that Russia has demanded another $700 million, on top of their demand for an additional $1.2 billion which had been approved by India’s cabinet, on top of the original $947 million contract. The shipyard is also demanding $190 million immediately, in order to continue work. Delivery is still scheduled for 2012, but this assumes the schedule promises are kept, and that there are no work stoppages or other production delays owning to contract negotiations.
Assuming that this is in fact Russia’s final demand, it would bring the asking price for the Gorshkov to $2.85 billion. That figure could buy a similar 45.7t new-build America Class LHA-R medium carrier with funds left over, and might even buy one of Britain’s new 65t CVF Class carriers. Hindustan Times | Indian Express | Forecast International report/op-ed | Indian Express op-ed.
Feb 22/09: The Hindu quotes UAC VP and RAC MiG Director-General Mikhail Aslanovich Pogosyan, who says that Indian naval pilots have been training in Russia since October 2008. The theory portion of the course is done, and:
“Indian pilots are already training to fly the MiG-29Ks from a shore-based facility. They have been doing even 15 sorties in a day during the winter. We expect the first four MiG-29Ks to arrive in India later this year, with the other 12 being delivered by 2010.”
So far, 4 certified MiG-29Ks have been transferred to the Indian project team in Russia, after Russian test pilots have conducted carrier landing check-outs. After the course is complete, India’s Navy hopes to continue their own pilots’ training by using a Shore-based Test Facility (SBTF), built with Russian help at INS Hansa in Goa.
Feb 12/08: RIA Novosti reports that Russia has delivered the first 4 MiG-29 naval fighters to India. Oddly, they use the designation “MiG-29 Fulcrum D,” which is the NATO reporting code and not Russian or RAC MiG nomenclature.
Dec 3/08: Indian Express reports that India’s Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) on Tuesday “gave in to Moscow’s demands,” and will renegotiate the Vikramaditya upgrade on terms acceptable to Moscow.
Nov 22/08: Australia’s the Age newspaper reports that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has cut back his December 2008 India visit to a single day, a signal usually associated with a strained geo-strategic relationship. The visit will now take place on Dec 5/08.
Nov 13/08: As negotiations regarding the Gorshkov continue to drag on, pressure for timely resolution is building on the Russian side, as well. Sevmash (Severodvinsk Machine Building Enterprise) shipyard Deputy General-Director Sergey Novoselov tells RIA Novosti new agency that:
“We are essentially constructing a new aircraft carrier at the open assembly berth of Sevmash. In the last two years, work has only proceeded thanks to internal loans….”
That cannot continue indefinitely – but Sevmash is not backlogged with projects, which means it needs to hang on to the Admiral Gorshkov refit. So, what if India proves unwilling to pay? Novoselov pointed out that even at $2 billion, a refitted Gorshkov costs only 50-67% of the $3-4 billion involved in building a medium sized carrier. Novoselov would not be pinned down to any firm figure, of course, but some Russian defense planners are either taking him seriously, or willing to help him put added pressure on India. RIA Novosti, via Forecast Interational:
“If India won’t pay the money [over the agreed $617 million], we will keep the aircraft carrier ourselves. It will be very useful to us, because the situation in the world is complicated. Vessels like that are needed to patrol the waters of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean,” noted a Russian defense industry official.”
If Russia did make that move, India would need compensation for costs incurred to date – reportedly about $400 million.
Nov 11/08: Russia now says that the delivery of Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier to the Indian Navy will be delayed till 2012. The shipyard also claims that New Delhi has not made any payments since last year, although extra work to the tune of $1.7 billion has been done by the shipyard. ITAR-TASS reportedly quoted a shipyard representative as saying that:
“At this juncture, the completion of work in 2010 would be realistic. Two more years would be required to complete the vessel’s sailing trials, including testing its aircraft in the severe conditions of Barents Sea.”
DID isn’t quite sure why arctic operations would matter to India. India Defence.
Nov 2/08: India’s finance ministry has for the second time rejected a proposal from the MoD to approve an additional $1.2 billion in funds, in order to complete the INS Vikramaditya retrofit project. The article reports that India has already paid Russia about 67% of the original program cost, but has made no further payments since January 2007. The India Defence report adds, cryptically:
“The finance ministry’s latest decision also stemmed from a request to allocate $60 million to perform sea trials of the refurbished vessel during 2011.”
Oct 18/08: The Hindu newspaper quotes Sevmash Shipyard’s deputy director for foreign defence contracts Sergei Novosyolov, who says that Gorshkov will be taken out of dry dock by the end of the month.
“The ship’s hull has been fully done and painted and scaffolding will be dismantled by the end of October…”
Sept 21/08: Still no firm deal on the Gorshkov refit, but India’s Defence Acquisition Committee (DAC) has given approval in principle to add another 29 MiG-29Ks to the original 16-plane, $1.5 billion deal.
No price negotiations have taken place, but the contract is expected to be worth close to $2 billion when it is signed. The Navy is reported to have set its sights on a 3-squadron goal for its MiG-29K/KUB force. Indian Express report.
Sept 19/08: Indian Express reports that after Indian officials expressed concern over the slow progress in overhauling Gorshkov at the Sevmash shipyard in North Sea, Russian asked South Block to immediately pay the cash-strapped shipyard $200 million, “without prejudice to the on-going price negotiations,” in order to speed up work.
The report adds that Russian Defence Minister A Serdyukov’s visit to Delhi later in September 2008 is expected to result in a revised price for the Gorshkov refit, which must then receive political approval in India.
June 3/08: Press Trust of India reports that Russia’s Sevmash shipyard has promised readiness by 2012 – maybe. RIA Novosti quotes Sevmash officials as saying that:
“The successful solution of all the financial issues will enable the shipbuilders to sail the aircraft carrier out into the Barents Sea for trials. In the winter of 2012, the ship is expected to be finally refitted and trials will continue in the summer of that year… At the end of 2012, the aircraft carrier is expected to be fully prepared for its transfer to the Indian navy in accordance with the schedule approved by the Russian Navy.”
Negotiations and maneuvering around the contract’s final details continue, and Sevmash’s history of delivery, detailed below, must also be considered when evaluating such statements.
June 2/08: Defense News reports that India’s MiG-29Ks will be based on land, because the country has no operational carriers. With INS Viraat unavailable due to upgrades and Vikramaditya badly behind schedule, the MiG-29Ks will go to the Naval Aviation Centre at INS Hansa in Goa instead. Hansa is the based used to train naval pilots. Deliveries of all 16 MiG-29Ks are expected to be complete by 2009.
CV-63
USS Vikramaditya?
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May 30/08: Reuters reports that American Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was asked about rumors that the USS Kitty Hawk might be sold to India at the at the Shangri-La Dialogue forum of regional analysts, defense and security officials. “I am aware of no such plans,” Gates replied.
May 9/08: News Post India’s “Indian Navy To Order Another Aircraft Carrier” claims that the Indian Navy will supplement the Vikramaditya with 2 of its 37,500t indigenous “Air Defence Ship” carriers, instead of just one. The article also includes additional information about the Vikramaditya’s schedule and the potential risks.
April 9/08: Despite an agreement that was supposed to be finalized in March, Indian Defence Secretary Vijay Singh describes the parties as still “locked in intense negotiations over the price details,” adding that “technical assessment of the work needed on the carrier is still on…” The expected responses re: the deal being on track, and having a final price proposal to bring to the Cabinet “soon,” were also voiced. Zee News.
March 18/08: During Chief of Naval Staff Sureesh Mehta’s visit to Russia, the first serially produced MiG-29KUB (tail number 113) performs its maiden flight at the RAC MiG test airfield in Lukhovitsy near Moscow. The MiG-29KUB is the 2-seat variant of the carrier-capable MiG-29K. RAC MiG release.
March 10/08: The Indian government’s DDI News reports that “India has reconciled to a price hike for procurement of Russian carrier Admiral Gorshkov and the government has constituted an experts committee to work out the increase.”
Naval Chief Sureesh Mehta, who had opposed additional payments under the contract, said that: “There will be some price hike. We need to pay extra amount and whatever amount is due as per contracts we will pay.” This does not sound like an encouraging report from ongoing negotiations.
March 3/08: India opts to pay Russia more, in hopes of getting the Gorshkov ready in time. Figures given vary between $500 million and $1.2 billion; exactly how much more India will agree to pay will reportedly be decided later in March 2008, after 2 more rounds of negotiations. India’s Defence Secretary Vijay Singh is quoted as saying that:
“It should be completed by mid-2010. After that, it will undergo 18 months of extensive sea trials by the Russian navy to ensure all systems are working properly.”
Retired Admiral Arun Prakash was head of the Indian Navy in 2004 when the original deal was “laboriously and painstakingly negotiated for 11 months, and the contract sealed and signed.” He told BusinessWeek that he is disappointed by Russia “reneging on the deal” and says Russia “gifted” the Gorshkov to India in exchange for a $1.5 billion contract to buy planes and helicopters and “revive their terminally ill shipbuilding and aircraft manufacturing industries.”
India will also reportedly send 500 shipyard workers, technicians and managers to Russia, to take direct charge of the work, cover Russia’s labor shortage, and keep an eye on quality control so that it’s caught immediately. Whether this will suffice, in the wake of Sevmash shipyard disasters like the Odfjell contract (q.v. Feb 21/08), remains to be seen.
What also remains to be seen at this point is whether India’s MiG-29K contract becomes the next bottleneck. India remains the only customer for this substantially different aircraft, and MiG will need to make production line changes that the existing contract may not adequately finance. Indian MoD, March 12/08 | Calcutta Telegraph | NDTV | Pravda | StrategyPage | Times of India
Meanwhile, BusinessWeek has its own speculation re: “Why India Talked Up A US Carrier Deal.” As an interesting second perspective on the larger Russia-India relationship, see also the Navhind Times March 4/08 article “India’s Defence: Looking Beyond Russia”.
March 3/08: India’s Defence Minister Shri A K Antony confesses that India’s Sea Harrier fleet has an availability problem, due to the rotation of aircraft through the current upgrade program.
India’s Sea Harrier Shortage” looks at numbers and planned upgrades for India’s legacy naval aircraft, as the Navy prepares for future operations with MiG-29Ks.
Feb 27/08: India’s Minister of Defence Shri A K Antony, asked about this issue, says:
“The overall progress of repair and re-equipping of the ship, ex-Admiral Gorshkov, in Russia is behind schedule. Execution of contract for construction of three ships of Project 1135.6 (follow-on-ships of Talwar Class) is on schedule. Russia has indicated an increase in price for repair and re-equipping of ex-Admiral Gorshkov. There is no proposal under the active consideration of the Government to contact some other country in this regard. The need for contacting other country does not arise as the existing contract with Russia is still valid.”
A fine politician’s reply. If another country contacted India instead, his denial would still be “true” in the strict sense of the term…
Feb 23/08: Progress on Gorshkov? According to the India Times’ Economic Times, Indian Defence Secretary Vijay Singh’s 5-day delegation visit to Sevmash Shipyard, and talks with Russian Energy and Industries Minister Viktor Khristenko, may have made progress. Russian senior officials reportedly assured Singh that the Russian government was making strenuous efforts to improve the situation.
Feb 19-23/08: Crazy Sam’s Carrier Clearance Sale? As reports begin to suggest that Russia and India are too far apart to agree on the Gorshkov refit, speculation grows that the USA intends to solve India’s problem with a stunning offer during Defense Secretary Gates’ imminent visit to India. instead of retiring and decommissioning its last conventionally-powered carrier, the 81,800 ton/ 74,200t USS Kitty Hawk [CV-63, commissioned 1961], would be handed over to India when its current tour in Japan ends in 2008. The procedure would resemble the January 2007 “hot transfer” of the amphibious landing ship USS Trenton [LPD-14], which become INS Jalashva. The cost? This time, it would be free. As in, $0.
Naturally, there is a quid pro quo that accompanies these rumors. In return for an aircraft carrier that would be larger than its counterparts in every navy other than the US Navy, India would select at least 60 F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets in its MMRCA fighter competition, to serve as the carrier’s air wing. Unlike the Gorshkov, the Kitty Hawk is a purpose-built carrier whose full air complement is a whopping “75+” aircraft and helicopters. India has also expressed interest in the USA’s E-2 Hawkeye carrier AWACS aircraft, which would be a natural fit for its new ship.
AIR F-18F Over CV-63 USS Kitty Hawk
F/A-18F over CV-63
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As a number of sources point out, this is a multi-pronged move that would achieve several objectives at once. First, the offer removes all Russian negotiating leverage over India by removing the issues of sunk costs, foreign possession of the Vikramaditya, and any danger of being left without a carrier. The Indian Navy would be greatly strengthened, and its ability to police the Indian Ocean from the Straits of Malacca to South Africa would take a huge leap forward. Any additional work to upgrade or refurbish the carrier could be undertaken in India, providing jobs and expertise while maintaining full national control over the refit. The USA gains financial benefits of its own, as the Navy avoids the expensive task of steaming the Kitty Hawk home and decommissioning it. Americans would almost certainly receive maintenance contracts for the steam catapults, and possibly for some new electronics, but those economic benefits pale in comparison to the multi-billion dollar follow-on wins for Boeing (Super Hornet), Northrop Grumman (E-2 Hawkeye), and possibly even Lockheed Martin (F-16 E/F, F-35B). All of which works to cement a growing strategic alliance between the two countries, and creates deep defense industrial ties as well.
Then there’s the effect on Russia, whose relations with the USA currently border on outright hostility. With the MiG-29Ks no longer necessary for India, that contract would almost certainly be canceled. At which point, the commonality value of choosing the MiG-35 as a lower-cost secondary MMRCA buy drops sharply, opening the door for other MMRCA split-buy options that could include the Saab/BAE JAS-39 Gripen, or a complementary American offer of F-16E/Fs and/or F-35Bs. The combined effect of these blows would be a severe setback for Russia’s arms industry, though rising oil & gas revenues in Russia and other export opportunities may lead to less shrinkage and civilian re-purposing than publications like the Weekly Standard believe. The question now is: will this happen? Barents Observer |
Weekly Standard | Information Dissemination: Feb 20th/ 23rd.
Feb 21/08: “Galrahn” of the respected blog Information Dissemination passes a key tip along to DID. First, recall that the Sevmash shipyard in Severodvinsk, Archangel Oblast is responsible for the Gorshkov refit. Until recently, they also had a $544 million contract to build up to 12 tankers for the Norwegian shipping form Odfjell. When it was signed in 2004, it was promoted as “a historic deal in Norwegian-Russian industrial relations.”
Now it has been canceled, and Odfjell CEO Terje Storeng has used terms like “no will to try to understand that this is a commercial project,” “deliberately sabotaged and delayed the project” et. al. to Dagens Næringsliv. He adds:
“Following serious delays in the construction process, combined with demands for further price increases from the Yard, continuous cooperation problems as well as protracted negotiations, Odfjell decided today to serve formal notice of cancellation to Sevmash. The instalments already paid are covered by standard refund guarantees from international banks. Odfjell will further claim full compensation for its costs and losses caused, on account of wilful misconduct and massive contract breaches by the Yard. Unless the matter is solved amicably between the parties, the issue will be solved by arbitration in Sweden, as provided for in the contract.”
Note the Russian official’s comments in the Feb 7/08 entry. Closure may once again become a very real possibility for Sevmash. Worse, Odfjell’s experience has to give India serious pause re: the reliability of Russia’s new refit cost estimates, and the likelihood of further extortion to ‘adjust’ the deal down the road. Barents Observer | Dagens Naeringsliv report [Norwegian] | Odjfell.NO release
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.”
AIR Ka-28 Indian Navy lg
Ka-28
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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.”

Additional Readings: Ship

  • Bharat Rakshak – INS Viraat (formerly HMS Hermes, last of the British Centaur Class).

Appendix B: Additional Readings – Related Developments

  • Asia Times (Dec 9/09) – India displays multi-vector diplomacy. Offers one take on the larger strategic background behind India’s ties with Russia. M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service whose assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.
  • BBC (Oct 23/09) – Crucial Indian defence deals delayed. These include the Navy’s submarine and aircraft carrier projects, advanced trainers for the air force, and coastal surveillance plans. “For its part, the government has been slow in responding to criticism – even from its auditing organisation. When it comes to defence issues in India, speed does not seem to be of paramount importance.”
  • 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.
This free article is a sample taken from our database of 300+ detailed analyses of defense programs and contracting trends. To see what we are already covering, check our list of Focus and Spotlight articles.
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Thursday, January 26, 2012

INS Vikramaditya: Waiting for Gorshkov…

Related Stories: Alliances, Americas - USA, Asia - India, Boeing, Contracts - Awards, Contracts - Intent, Events, Fighters & Attack, Force Structure, Helicopters & Rotary, Issues - International, Issues - Political, Northrop-Grumman, Other Corporation, Rumours, Russia, Spotlight articles, Support Functions - Other, Surface Ships - Combat
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CV Admiral Gorshkov
Adm. Gorshkov: Before.
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Sea trials delayed. (Oct 16/11)
This free-to-view DID Spotlight article offers an in-depth look at India’s troubled attempt to convert and field a full-size aircraft carrier, before time and wear force it to retire its existing naval aviation and ships.
Right now, there are 2 major concerns in India. One is slipping timelines. The other concern involves Vikramaditya’s 3-fold cost increase, including worries that Russia will raise it rates yet again once India is deeper into the commitment trap. The carrier purchase has now become the subject of high level diplomacy, involving a shipyard that can’t even execute on commercial contracts. Russian demands continued to raise the price, even as deliveries of India’s new MiG-29K naval fighters got underway. A revised deal was finally signed in March 2010 – but now Russia still has to make good…

Waiting for Gorshkov – A History

CV Vikramaditya Model
After.
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DII-QV
On Jan 20/04 India and Russia signed a $947 million deal to refurbish and convert the 40,000t Soviet/Russian Admiral Gorshkov into a full carrier, to be re-named INS Vikramaditya. The Vikramaditya project involves extensive modifications to the original ship. The cruiser-carrier’s guns, anti-shipping and anti-air missile launchers on the front deck are being removed and replaced with a full runway and ski jump, the deck must be widened in numerous places, its boilers are being changed out to run on diesel fuel, the rear aircraft elevator is being enlarged and strengthened, and other modifications like wiring replacement are necessary to make Gorshkov a fully modern ship.
Initial reports of delays sparked controversy and denials in India, but subsequent events more than justified them. The INS Viraat’s retirement was moved to 2010-2012 – but it soon became clear that even that might not be late enough. Slow negotiations and steadily-lengthening delivery times quickly pushed delivery of the Gorshkov back to 2010, and then to 2012 or later, even as Russia’s asking price more than doubled. Cost estimates and reports concerning the Gorshkov’s final total now hover in the $2.9 billion range, following the revised project agreement of March 2010.
In many ways, the Vikramaditya story is sadly typical.
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 29,000t light carrier INS Viraat (formerly HMS Hermes, last of the Centaur class) was scheduled to retire. The new carrier would berth at the new Indian Navy facility in Karwar, on India’s west coast.
As is customary with Indian defense procurement, transparency arrived only after after all other alternatives had been exhausted.
When reports first surfaced that this delivery date would not be met, India’s Ministry of Defence initially tried to deflect the issue with denials and obfuscation. 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 1/07 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”
Neither assessment turned out to be true, and subsequent updates proved the critics to be correct. After the delivery delays could no longer be denied, the initial approach was to minimize their length. February 2008 news reports, however, began to give figures of up to 3-4 years before refurbishment and testing could allow the ship to enter service. Subsequent reports by Indian and Russian sources stressed 2012, or even later. India’s sunk construction costs, Russian possession of the Gorshkov, the difficulty in finding a substitute carrier to replace the Gorshkov sooner than 2013, and the Chinese push with the Varyag, have all combined to give the Russians substantial leverage in their negotiations. They have exploited that leverage to the fullest.
That created a gap with no serving carriers in the fleet. INS Viraat was scheduled to retire in 2009, but events forced India to extend that schedule with another refit, leaving the country without a carrier for almost a year. Even with the refit, Viraat nearing the limits of her mechanical life, even as shortages of flyable Sea Harrier fighters are creating issues of their own. Meanwhile, the delivery date for India’s locally-built 37,000t escort carrier project appears to be slipping to 2015 or so. This leaves India’s Navy with a serious scheduling problem, and no significant carrier force.
An official Indian CAG report adds that even when inducted, Vikramadirya will have no aerial defenses until 2017 – whereupon it is scheduled to be retrofitted with only a last-ditch CIWS gun system.
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 2010-11.

Gorshkov-Vikramaditya: Aerial Complement

Russian Ka-31 AEW
Ka-31 AEW
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Many of Gorshkov’s key modifications are aircraft-related, including the new arrester gear and ski jump. New boilers and wiring are the other major components. The timelines and cost figures for delivery of the ship do not include the aircraft, however, which are bought 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, addition of the 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. For instance, the Gorshkov would be large enough to operate full naval AWACS aircraft, but it lacks a launch catapult. If rumors prove true and India does indeed buy E-2C+/E-2D Hawkeyes, therefore, they would probably operate from shore. The carrier’s AEW complement, if any, is almost certain to use India’s Ka-31 helicopters.
Carriage ranges given for the refitted Vikramaditya seem to average 12-24 fighters and/or 4-16 of the compact Ka-28/31 helicopters; diagrams 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 5-8 open footprint spots on deck.
MiG-29K
MiG-29K 3-view
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Vikramaditya’s fighters will also be Russian. A related $740 million contract for 16 MiG-29K (12 MiG-29K, 4 two-seat MiG-29KUB) aircraft plus training and maintenance was confirmed on Dec 22/04, and the contract’s option for another 29 planes, rumored to be worth $1.2 billion, will bring India’s planned MiG-29K fleet to 45. The MiGs would be operated in STOBAR (Short Take-Off via the ski ramp, But Assisted Recovery via arresting wires) mode, and the design was reportedly selected over the larger and more-capable SU-33 naval fighter because India also hopes to operate them from smaller “Project-71 Air Defence Ship” indigenous carriers.
Vikramadirya will reportedly be delivered with a radar, but no aerial defenses. A last-ditch CIWS gun system, which might be the Russian SA-N-11 Kashtan-M combination gun/ short range missile system, is reportedly scheduled as a refit around 2017.

Contracts & Key Events

Eurofighter CV
Navalized Typhoon concept
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Oct 16/11: Indian media report that Vikramaditya’s sea trials will be delayed 5-6 months, to February or March 2012, because open sea trials aren’t possible from Severodvinsk in northern Russia during the winters. Instead, the ship will do everything they can in the harbor, then hold sea trials when the ice is out.
PTI was told by “senior Defence Ministry sources” said the change in trial plans will not affect the delivery schedule of the aircraft carrier – but then, they have been wrong and even misleading before. The more puzzling question is why it took until October 2011 to realize that conducting sea trials in northern Russia, in November, is unworkable. PTI | Voice of Russia.
Aug 3/11: RAC MiG CEO Sergei Korotkov places the number of MiG-29Ks delivered to date at 11, with the initial order’s other 5 slated to arrive by the end of 2011. Work of the 2nd MiG-29K order of 29 planes is just beginning. AFP | domain-b | Hindustan Times | Voice of Russia.
Aug 2/11: The Indian MoD offers an official update of progress on the Vikramaditya – and its smaller cousins:
“Consequent to signing of Supplementary Agreements in March, 2010, the Russian side has increased the manpower and material resources considerably for the Project. A majority of the equipment/systems have been installed on board the ship. The delivery of ship is scheduled in December, 2012.
Regarding the ‘Air Defence Ship’ [DID: 35,000t carrier] being constructed at Cochin Shipyard Limited (CSL), 75% of hull work has been completed and is expected to be launched in December 2011, after which further works will be undertaken prior to commissioning…. indigenous Aircraft Carrier-sized ships can [now] be built at CSL. Additionally, Indian-manufactures warship quality steel is now available, which will reduce dependence on foreign countries.”
June 23/11: A Prototype MiG-29KUB trainer crashes in Russia. The plane was a test aircraft belonging to RAC MiG, and the company advised the Indian Navy to temporarily suspend MiG-29K operations until the crash’s causes were known.
India asked for a detailed report, and according to the MoD, the crash wasn’t because of a structural failure in the air, engine failure, or avionics/ systems failure. By June 28/11, RAC MiG advised that MiG-29K flights could resume if India wished. India MoD.
May 30/11: RAC MiG announces that they delivered a new batch of 5 MiG-29K/KUB carrier-based fighters to the Indian Navy in May, along with a flight training simulator and other technical equipment. That’s on top of the first 4 aircraft, which officially entered service with the “Black Panthers” naval squadron in February 2010, and makes 9 of 12 delivered on the initial carrier/aircraft contract.
The March 2010 contract for 29 more MiG-29K Fulcrum-Ds won’t begin delivery until 2012. Economic Times of India.
April 4/11: The Admiral Gorshkov is expected is to reach Murmansk in November 2011, as it heads to Murmansk ship-repair yard # 35 from Sevmash. The carrier is expected to undergo further upgrades and performance testing. Barents Nova.
Feb 21/11: Aero India 2011 sees Eurofighter and BAE unveil an interesting wrinkle: an initial design for a navalized Eurofighter than can operate from aircraft carriers, based on an internally-funded set of studies and simulations. In a direct nod to potential Indian sales, they tout the plane as being able to take off from “ski jump” carriers without catapults – a design that describes all of India’s current and planned carriers, but not the French carriers that launch the Rafale fighter.
Eurofighter GmbH descirbes the goal as 95% commonality with land-based aircraft, and required changes as “limited… include a new, stronger landing gear, a modified arrestor hook and localised strengthening on some fuselage sections near the landing gear, as well as updates the EJ200 engines,” which could include thrust-vectoring in flight.
The Eurofighter and Rafale are later picked as India’s 2 finalists for its M-MRCA fighter competition. Eurofighter GmbH | India Defence.
MiG-29KUB
MiG-29KUB: early flight
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Aug 9/10: Indian Commodore Sukhjinder Singh, who was a key person in the Gorshkov refit program from 2005-2009, has reportedly handed in his resignation after reports of his illicit affair with a Russian woman (vid. April 12/10 entry). The inquiry by Indian naval HQ established the relationship with the woman, but ruled out court martial as they couldn’t establish the woman’s status as an agent, or anything untoward beyond a romantic relationship.
The findings of the Board of Inquiry will have to be acted upon by chief of naval staff Admiral Nirmal Verma, who must also decide whether and how to accept the Commodore’s resignation. On the bright side, at least he didn’t hire Jodie Fisher. See: DNA India.
Aug 3/10: A CAG report says that Indian naval aviation has suffered in recent years, and the current state of the Sea Harrier fleet makes it clear that on-time induction of MiG-29Ks into the fleet will be critical. Read “India’s Sea Harrier Shortage” for more.
April 12/10: The inquiry against Commodore Sukhjinder Singh has established his `amorous relationship’ with a Russian woman, and India’s naval brass are considering punishments. Meanwhile, he has been relieved of his current posting in the defence ministry’s directorate-general of quality assurance.
Singh oversaw the Gorshkov refit project in Russia from 2005-2007, and was the project’s principal director in India from 2007-2009. That gave him no role in price negotiations, but there is more than casual concern that he may have been “honey trapped” by an FSB agent to give details of India’s negotiating position. Explicit photographs with this russian woman surfaced recently in the media, and formed part of the “clinching evidence’’ in the just-concluded naval Board of Inquiry (BoI).
Defence minister A K Antony said that “Nothing beyond [a romantic relationship] has been proved so far. I do not want to jump the gun. I have asked Navy to finish (the inquiry report) as quickly as possible. I do not want to draw any conclusions prematurely. Once the Navy completes everything, we will take a decision.’’ Current Affairs (incl. Times Now video) | DNA India | India Server | India TV | Kalyugikalki | The Times of India | Hindustan Times.
March 11-13/10: India’s Cabinet Committee on Security approves a new $2.33 billion price for the Gorshkov refit, a rise of over 140%. Russian President Vladimir Putin is currently visiting India, and is expected to sign a number of defense contracts, including the revised Gorhkov pact and a contract for another 29 MiG-29Ks. The Gorshkov agreement is signed on March 13/10, and the carrier’s delivery date is now 2013. Indian Express | Russia’s RIA Novosti | Sify | Zee News || Putin visit: Calcutta Telegraph | DNA | Economic Times of India | Sify || Post-Signing: Indian government PIB release | DNA India | Times of India.
Feb 19/10: India inducts its first 6 MiG-29Ks into service at INS Hansa in Goa – and apologizes to Goa’s citizen’s for the unannounced sonic booms they’ve experienced over the past few days. Defence Minister Antony also confirms India’s intent to buy anther 29 fighters, raising the Navy’s MiG-29K fleet to 45. ANI | Economic Times of India | Indian Express | Sify | Times of India | NDTV video – note that aerial footage is of India’s Kiran trainers instead.
Feb 15/10: Russian deputy service director Alexander Fomin is quoted as saying that Russia and India will sign a supplementary agreement to finish upgrading the Admiral Gorshkov “in February-March this year.” Time will tell. RIA Novosti.
Jan 17/10: Reports surface that India will “soon” finalize a $1.2 billion deal with Russia to buy 29 more MiG-29K jets, which would bring India’s order total for the carrier capable STOBAR (Short Take-Off But Assisted Recovery) fighters to 45. Russia’s RIA Novosti | domain-b | India’s Economic Times | Press Trust of India | Times of India | UPI | Associated Press of Pakistan.
Jan 16/10: Admiral Admiral Nirmal Verma tells the media that there is still no final deal:
“I cannot speak anything about the final pricing till the government’s approval is announced. But, yes, for any of these major induction programs, we have a price negotiation committee, which has done its job and a mutually agreed price has been arrived at.”
See: Press Trust of India | Times of India | Barents Observer | China’s Xinhua.
Dec 5/09: Reports surface once again that India and Russia have reached an agreement on the Vikramaditya’s price. This time, they may even be true. Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said that during summit-level talks between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev:
“Both the leaders discussed the [Vikramaditya] issue and noted excellent progress on negotiations on price and technical issues which have been brought to a successful conclusion.”
The actual price in question is not discussed, and that political rapprochement may not be shared by the Navy. Defence Minister AK Antony has publicly distanced the Government from Naval Chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta’s recent public hard line regarding the Gorshkov’s price, and suggestions that India reassess its defense ties with Russia owing to quality issues. Adm. Arum Prakash also issued a warning, saying that: “The long-term price that we pay for 25 years of mischief, of twisting our arm will be much more than what we pay now.”
See: domain-b | Economic Times | Hindustan Times | IANS re: Rao quote | IANS re: Adm. Verma || Naval Spat: IBN Live | IBN Live quotes Adm. Mehta & Prakash.
Dec 4/09: Ending a year-long wait, the first batch of MiG-29K naval fighter jets, purchased from Russia for the Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier, arrive in Goa in a “knocked down condition” packed in containers on board an AN-124 cargo aircraft. Press Trust of India.
Nov 30/09: Defence Minister Shri AK Antony, in a written reply to the Lok Sabha (India’s Parliament):
“The Russian side had submitted a revised Master Schedule indicating delay and increase in prices for repair and re-equipping of aircraft carrier ex-Admiral Gorshkov. The Government has agreed to conduct negotiations for finalizing a revised Repair and Re-equipping contract. Negotiations are in progress with the Russian side. Details of final prices would be known only after completion of these negotiations.
An exhaustive list of equipment to be fitted on the ship was included in the original contract. The Aircraft Carrier is scheduled to be inducted in December, 2012.”
Nov 16/09: Amidst rumors of major British defense budget cuts, The Guardian reports that India has expressed formal interest in the 65,000t CVF/Queen Elizabeth class carrier program. The UK MoD is desperately looking for long-term budget savings, but canceling either of its full-size carriers at this point would be rival the cost of finishing them:
“According to senior defence sources, Whitehall officials are examining the feasibility of selling one of the carriers. It is understood they are planning to put forward the option as part of the government’s strategic defence review, which will start early next year…. “Selling a carrier is one very serious option,” a defence source said this weekend, although the government is a long way from committing to any sale. It could take between six and 12 months to reach a decision, he added.”
Each Queen Elizabeth carrier costs about $3.5 billion, and the negotiating difference around the Admiral Gorshkov is currently around $2.2+ billion. The question is whether India would be able to buy one of the CVF carriers for less than the UK paid, in order to offer the Treasury monies that it could not otherwise obtain from the CVF program. If a refund could be forthcoming from the Russians, and a deal done with the British, investing the Vikramaditya’s $3 billion could net India a completely new ship rather than an old and refurbished one, with double the Gorshkov’s aerial complement. Key questions include whether those deals could be secured, and whether India is prepared to wait until 2016 for the British carrier, as opposed to 2013 (and sliding…) for Gorshkov.
Then again, $2.2 – $2.5 billion could also secure India an America class light carrier from Northrop Grumman, with a similar tonnage and aerial complement to the Gorshkov, but markedly better electronics and defensive systems. If India begins to look beyond Russia for options, Britain’s CVF program is not its sole alternative.
Nov 1/09: The Times of India reports that INS Viraat is now on the verge of completing its sea-acceptance trials and work-up phase, after an 18-month-long comprehensive refit and upgrade program in Mumbai and Kochi. This will give India an aircraft carrier again. The 28,000-tonne carrier will complete its 50th year as an operational warship in November 2009, having serves as both HMS Hermes and INS Viraat.
Oct 23/09: A British BBC report explains some of the hurdles on the road to Vikramaditya’s delivery:
“In this hurry [on both sides to sign a deal], fine points including the ones relating to what was expected of Russia were overlooked…. India agreed to buy and get a ship refurbished without Gorshkov’s design [presumably means a detail design blueprint].... When the ship was ripped open, it was found that the wiring was ageing and needed to be redone. A Japanese contractor awarded the rewiring contract found the job overwhelming – given the costs involved – and left. Now a new contractor has been found for the purpose. Gorshkov’s steel plates and machinery, too, needed to be pulled apart and new ones fitted…. With Gorshkov’s induction delayed, the government decided to refit its only aircraft carrier, INS Viraat, but it will not be operational till 2015. That leaves the Indian navy with no aircraft carrier for some time.”
Oct 15/09: Despite prior reports that an agreement on the Vikramaditya’s final cost would be reached during Defence Minister A.K. Antony’s 2-day visit to Moscow, India and Russia have failed to reach agreement. Negotiations will continue. India MoD | Indo-Asian News Service.
Sept 24/09: Russia’s Vedemosti newspaper reports that the Russian Navy may decide to replace its 19 larger and longer-range SU-33 fighters on its Admiral Kuznetsov carrier with 24 MiG-29Ks, when the SU-33’s must be retired in 2015. Caution is advised, since the article is based on a source who sees a contract as possible in 2 years; that’s not exactly a rock-solid basis for concluding that India will avoid the potential trap of being the MiG-29K’s only operator. Vedemosti [in Russian] | Barents Observer.
Sept 3/09: Indian media report that a deal to finish the Vikramaditya refit is expected by mid-October 2009. Some caution is advised, as past reports and predictions in this area have later been proven false by events. India’s Business Standard | The Hindu | Hindustan Times.
Aug 16/09: Indian media report that the government has cleared a $122 million bridging payment for continued modification work on the Gorshkov, while negotiations continue. The payment was sanctioned in early August, following demands by Rosoboronexport. domain-b | Economic Times of India.
July 31/09: India’s Business Standard conducts an interview with Russia’s outgoing ambassador to India, Vyacheslav Trubnikov. Excerpts:
”[VT] Not changing [the Gorshkov order], but the Indian Navy was eager to get the best, the most modern equipment [to insert into the hull].
[IBS] So the Navy’s appetite kept increasing, they wanted more and more..
[VT] Yes.

[BS] Reports are that it will cost around $2.2 billion?
[VT] It would be irresponsible of me to comment. Price negotiations are now entering the final stage. What is important for India is also the time of delivery. But the point is that if India wants additional equipment, the carrier will cost even more. So if both sides stop and decide, okay no request from India and no increase in price from our side, then we can finalise price and delivery.”

July 29/09: The CAG report begins to generate political opposition to the Gorshkov deal, as well as media op/ed calls for a re-think. In the course of one such op-ed, The Hindustan Times offers a report on the negotiating spread:
“The Russians now want $2.9 billion (Rs 14,500 crore) for the warship, while the defence ministry is bargaining for $2.2 billion (Rs 11,000 crore). [Defence Minister Antony said that] “The Russians have demanded a substantially huge amount. We are still negotiating the deal. No final decision has been taken.”
July 25/09: India’s Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) issues a scathing report, saying that:
“The objective of inducting an aircraft carrier in time to fill the gap in the Indian Navy has not been achieved. The cost of acquisition has more than doubled [from $875 million] to $1.82 billion (Rs. 7,207 crore) in four years. At best, the Indian Navy would be acquiring, belatedly, a second-hand ship with a limited life span, by paying significantly more than what it would have paid for a new ship…”
The largest cost escalation is in sea trials, which have risen from $27 million to $500 million, and the CAG report sharply criticizes the Navy for poor project supervision practices. The report adds that planning failures will leave the warship with no air defense upon delivery, and only a Close-In Weapon System (CIWS) when one is retrofitted in 2017. Risks are also cited with respect to the aircraft arresting gear, which has not been finalized due to development problems. India CAG – they do not archive reports | DNA India | The Hindu | Indian Express | Rediff | Times of India | Agence France Presse.
May 25/09: Indian media report that the government has decided to speed up renegotiation with Russia, after a recent Moscow trip undertaken by defence secretary Vijay Singh failed to break the long-standing deadlock. The government has reportedly scheduled 3 visits to Russia by Indian officials, in hopes of sealing the deal by the end of July 2009. During those visits, they will also discuss the larger subject of Indian-Russian defense relations.
Another senior official of the Controller of Warship Production and Acquisition will reportedly visit Russia in the middle of June 2009, to work out the warship’s hoped-for 2011 trials in Barents Sea. Assuming that a deal can in fact be reached this time. Times of India.
April 6/09: India inaugurates the first phase of the MiG-29K maintenance and and training facility at the INS Hansa naval base in Goa. Vice-Admiral J. J. Bedi, Commander-in-Chief of India’s Western Naval command, is quoted as saying that:
“This is the first time in my service career of 40 years that I witness construction and availability of major infrastructure project prior to the induction of hardware in the Indian Navy.”
He expects the first batch of 4 aircraft to be “with us by middle of this year.” The Hindu.
March 16/09: Still no agreement on the Gorshkov refit. Meanwhile, The Times of India reports a Russian decision to ground its MiG-29 fleet, following accidents caused by the disintegration of the planes’ tail fins. It quoted an unidentified “senior officer,” who said that:
“We continue to fly our MiG-29s…. Our checks are stringent since we operate our MiG-29s also from coastal airbases (Jamnagar) and Russian metallurgy is susceptible to salinity.”
That’s a somewhat worrying assertion, in light of the MiG-29K naval buy. India is scheduled to finish its MiG-29A upgrades to MiG-29SMT status in 2014, thanks to a contract signed in March 2008. That effort will not be delayed by the news from Russia, but the news will reportedly delay delivery of the new MiG-29Ks to the Indian Navy.
Feb 28/09: The keel for India’s first “Project-71” 37.5t-40t indigenous carrier project is laid at the Cochin Shipyard in Kerala. The new carrier will be named INS Vikrant, after the 20,000t World War 2 era carrier HMS Herculaeus that was sold to the Indian Navy, and served as the Vikrant (from Sanskrit vikranta, “courageous/ victorious”) from 1961-1997. Ptoject-71 currently has a budget of INR 32.6 billion (currently about $650 million), but few observers believe that the final cost will remain on budget.
Delivery is scheduled for 2014-2015, and these carriers are expected to carry their own complement of MiG-29K fighters. Plans exist for a naval variant of India’s LCA Tejas lightweight fighters, but India’s history of extremely late and failed weapons projects suggests caution. Even a successful project is unlikely to induct a naval Tejas before 2016-2018, leaving both of India’s future carrier classes strongly dependent on Russian goodwill. The Hindu | Indian Express | Sindh Today.
Feb 23/09: Indian media report that Russia has demanded another $700 million, on top of their demand for an additional $1.2 billion which had been approved by India’s cabinet, on top of the original $947 million contract. The shipyard is also demanding $190 million immediately, in order to continue work. Delivery is still scheduled for 2012, but this assumes the schedule promises are kept, and that there are no work stoppages or other production delays owning to contract negotiations.
Assuming that this is in fact Russia’s final demand, it would bring the asking price for the Gorshkov to $2.85 billion. That figure could buy a similar 45.7t new-build America Class LHA-R medium carrier with funds left over, and might even buy one of Britain’s new 65t CVF Class carriers. Hindustan Times | Indian Express | Forecast International report/op-ed | Indian Express op-ed.
Feb 22/09: The Hindu quotes UAC VP and RAC MiG Director-General Mikhail Aslanovich Pogosyan, who says that Indian naval pilots have been training in Russia since October 2008. The theory portion of the course is done, and:
“Indian pilots are already training to fly the MiG-29Ks from a shore-based facility. They have been doing even 15 sorties in a day during the winter. We expect the first four MiG-29Ks to arrive in India later this year, with the other 12 being delivered by 2010.”
So far, 4 certified MiG-29Ks have been transferred to the Indian project team in Russia, after Russian test pilots have conducted carrier landing check-outs. After the course is complete, India’s Navy hopes to continue their own pilots’ training by using a Shore-based Test Facility (SBTF), built with Russian help at INS Hansa in Goa.
Feb 12/08: RIA Novosti reports that Russia has delivered the first 4 MiG-29 naval fighters to India. Oddly, they use the designation “MiG-29 Fulcrum D,” which is the NATO reporting code and not Russian or RAC MiG nomenclature.
Dec 3/08: Indian Express reports that India’s Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) on Tuesday “gave in to Moscow’s demands,” and will renegotiate the Vikramaditya upgrade on terms acceptable to Moscow.
Nov 22/08: Australia’s the Age newspaper reports that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has cut back his December 2008 India visit to a single day, a signal usually associated with a strained geo-strategic relationship. The visit will now take place on Dec 5/08.
Nov 13/08: As negotiations regarding the Gorshkov continue to drag on, pressure for timely resolution is building on the Russian side, as well. Sevmash (Severodvinsk Machine Building Enterprise) shipyard Deputy General-Director Sergey Novoselov tells RIA Novosti new agency that:
“We are essentially constructing a new aircraft carrier at the open assembly berth of Sevmash. In the last two years, work has only proceeded thanks to internal loans….”
That cannot continue indefinitely – but Sevmash is not backlogged with projects, which means it needs to hang on to the Admiral Gorshkov refit. So, what if India proves unwilling to pay? Novoselov pointed out that even at $2 billion, a refitted Gorshkov costs only 50-67% of the $3-4 billion involved in building a medium sized carrier. Novoselov would not be pinned down to any firm figure, of course, but some Russian defense planners are either taking him seriously, or willing to help him put added pressure on India. RIA Novosti, via Forecast Interational:
“If India won’t pay the money [over the agreed $617 million], we will keep the aircraft carrier ourselves. It will be very useful to us, because the situation in the world is complicated. Vessels like that are needed to patrol the waters of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean,” noted a Russian defense industry official.”
If Russia did make that move, India would need compensation for costs incurred to date – reportedly about $400 million.
Nov 11/08: Russia now says that the delivery of Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier to the Indian Navy will be delayed till 2012. The shipyard also claims that New Delhi has not made any payments since last year, although extra work to the tune of $1.7 billion has been done by the shipyard. ITAR-TASS reportedly quoted a shipyard representative as saying that:
“At this juncture, the completion of work in 2010 would be realistic. Two more years would be required to complete the vessel’s sailing trials, including testing its aircraft in the severe conditions of Barents Sea.”
DID isn’t quite sure why arctic operations would matter to India. India Defence.
Nov 2/08: India’s finance ministry has for the second time rejected a proposal from the MoD to approve an additional $1.2 billion in funds, in order to complete the INS Vikramaditya retrofit project. The article reports that India has already paid Russia about 67% of the original program cost, but has made no further payments since January 2007. The India Defence report adds, cryptically:
“The finance ministry’s latest decision also stemmed from a request to allocate $60 million to perform sea trials of the refurbished vessel during 2011.”
Oct 18/08: The Hindu newspaper quotes Sevmash Shipyard’s deputy director for foreign defence contracts Sergei Novosyolov, who says that Gorshkov will be taken out of dry dock by the end of the month.
“The ship’s hull has been fully done and painted and scaffolding will be dismantled by the end of October…”
Sept 21/08: Still no firm deal on the Gorshkov refit, but India’s Defence Acquisition Committee (DAC) has given approval in principle to add another 29 MiG-29Ks to the original 16-plane, $1.5 billion deal.
No price negotiations have taken place, but the contract is expected to be worth close to $2 billion when it is signed. The Navy is reported to have set its sights on a 3-squadron goal for its MiG-29K/KUB force. Indian Express report.
Sept 19/08: Indian Express reports that after Indian officials expressed concern over the slow progress in overhauling Gorshkov at the Sevmash shipyard in North Sea, Russian asked South Block to immediately pay the cash-strapped shipyard $200 million, “without prejudice to the on-going price negotiations,” in order to speed up work.
The report adds that Russian Defence Minister A Serdyukov’s visit to Delhi later in September 2008 is expected to result in a revised price for the Gorshkov refit, which must then receive political approval in India.
June 3/08: Press Trust of India reports that Russia’s Sevmash shipyard has promised readiness by 2012 – maybe. RIA Novosti quotes Sevmash officials as saying that:
“The successful solution of all the financial issues will enable the shipbuilders to sail the aircraft carrier out into the Barents Sea for trials. In the winter of 2012, the ship is expected to be finally refitted and trials will continue in the summer of that year… At the end of 2012, the aircraft carrier is expected to be fully prepared for its transfer to the Indian navy in accordance with the schedule approved by the Russian Navy.”
Negotiations and maneuvering around the contract’s final details continue, and Sevmash’s history of delivery, detailed below, must also be considered when evaluating such statements.
June 2/08: Defense News reports that India’s MiG-29Ks will be based on land, because the country has no operational carriers. With INS Viraat unavailable due to upgrades and Vikramaditya badly behind schedule, the MiG-29Ks will go to the Naval Aviation Centre at INS Hansa in Goa instead. Hansa is the based used to train naval pilots. Deliveries of all 16 MiG-29Ks are expected to be complete by 2009.
CV-63
USS Vikramaditya?
(click to view larger)
May 30/08: Reuters reports that American Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was asked about rumors that the USS Kitty Hawk might be sold to India at the at the Shangri-La Dialogue forum of regional analysts, defense and security officials. “I am aware of no such plans,” Gates replied.
May 9/08: News Post India’s “Indian Navy To Order Another Aircraft Carrier” claims that the Indian Navy will supplement the Vikramaditya with 2 of its 37,500t indigenous “Air Defence Ship” carriers, instead of just one. The article also includes additional information about the Vikramaditya’s schedule and the potential risks.
April 9/08: Despite an agreement that was supposed to be finalized in March, Indian Defence Secretary Vijay Singh describes the parties as still “locked in intense negotiations over the price details,” adding that “technical assessment of the work needed on the carrier is still on…” The expected responses re: the deal being on track, and having a final price proposal to bring to the Cabinet “soon,” were also voiced. Zee News.
March 18/08: During Chief of Naval Staff Sureesh Mehta’s visit to Russia, the first serially produced MiG-29KUB (tail number 113) performs its maiden flight at the RAC MiG test airfield in Lukhovitsy near Moscow. The MiG-29KUB is the 2-seat variant of the carrier-capable MiG-29K. RAC MiG release.
March 10/08: The Indian government’s DDI News reports that “India has reconciled to a price hike for procurement of Russian carrier Admiral Gorshkov and the government has constituted an experts committee to work out the increase.”
Naval Chief Sureesh Mehta, who had opposed additional payments under the contract, said that: “There will be some price hike. We need to pay extra amount and whatever amount is due as per contracts we will pay.” This does not sound like an encouraging report from ongoing negotiations.
March 3/08: India opts to pay Russia more, in hopes of getting the Gorshkov ready in time. Figures given vary between $500 million and $1.2 billion; exactly how much more India will agree to pay will reportedly be decided later in March 2008, after 2 more rounds of negotiations. India’s Defence Secretary Vijay Singh is quoted as saying that:
“It should be completed by mid-2010. After that, it will undergo 18 months of extensive sea trials by the Russian navy to ensure all systems are working properly.”
Retired Admiral Arun Prakash was head of the Indian Navy in 2004 when the original deal was “laboriously and painstakingly negotiated for 11 months, and the contract sealed and signed.” He told BusinessWeek that he is disappointed by Russia “reneging on the deal” and says Russia “gifted” the Gorshkov to India in exchange for a $1.5 billion contract to buy planes and helicopters and “revive their terminally ill shipbuilding and aircraft manufacturing industries.”
India will also reportedly send 500 shipyard workers, technicians and managers to Russia, to take direct charge of the work, cover Russia’s labor shortage, and keep an eye on quality control so that it’s caught immediately. Whether this will suffice, in the wake of Sevmash shipyard disasters like the Odfjell contract (q.v. Feb 21/08), remains to be seen.
What also remains to be seen at this point is whether India’s MiG-29K contract becomes the next bottleneck. India remains the only customer for this substantially different aircraft, and MiG will need to make production line changes that the existing contract may not adequately finance. Indian MoD, March 12/08 | Calcutta Telegraph | NDTV | Pravda | StrategyPage | Times of India
Meanwhile, BusinessWeek has its own speculation re: “Why India Talked Up A US Carrier Deal.” As an interesting second perspective on the larger Russia-India relationship, see also the Navhind Times March 4/08 article “India’s Defence: Looking Beyond Russia”.
March 3/08: India’s Defence Minister Shri A K Antony confesses that India’s Sea Harrier fleet has an availability problem, due to the rotation of aircraft through the current upgrade program.
India’s Sea Harrier Shortage” looks at numbers and planned upgrades for India’s legacy naval aircraft, as the Navy prepares for future operations with MiG-29Ks.
Feb 27/08: India’s Minister of Defence Shri A K Antony, asked about this issue, says:
“The overall progress of repair and re-equipping of the ship, ex-Admiral Gorshkov, in Russia is behind schedule. Execution of contract for construction of three ships of Project 1135.6 (follow-on-ships of Talwar Class) is on schedule. Russia has indicated an increase in price for repair and re-equipping of ex-Admiral Gorshkov. There is no proposal under the active consideration of the Government to contact some other country in this regard. The need for contacting other country does not arise as the existing contract with Russia is still valid.”
A fine politician’s reply. If another country contacted India instead, his denial would still be “true” in the strict sense of the term…
Feb 23/08: Progress on Gorshkov? According to the India Times’ Economic Times, Indian Defence Secretary Vijay Singh’s 5-day delegation visit to Sevmash Shipyard, and talks with Russian Energy and Industries Minister Viktor Khristenko, may have made progress. Russian senior officials reportedly assured Singh that the Russian government was making strenuous efforts to improve the situation.
Feb 19-23/08: Crazy Sam’s Carrier Clearance Sale? As reports begin to suggest that Russia and India are too far apart to agree on the Gorshkov refit, speculation grows that the USA intends to solve India’s problem with a stunning offer during Defense Secretary Gates’ imminent visit to India. instead of retiring and decommissioning its last conventionally-powered carrier, the 81,800 ton/ 74,200t USS Kitty Hawk [CV-63, commissioned 1961], would be handed over to India when its current tour in Japan ends in 2008. The procedure would resemble the January 2007 “hot transfer” of the amphibious landing ship USS Trenton [LPD-14], which become INS Jalashva. The cost? This time, it would be free. As in, $0.
Naturally, there is a quid pro quo that accompanies these rumors. In return for an aircraft carrier that would be larger than its counterparts in every navy other than the US Navy, India would select at least 60 F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets in its MMRCA fighter competition, to serve as the carrier’s air wing. Unlike the Gorshkov, the Kitty Hawk is a purpose-built carrier whose full air complement is a whopping “75+” aircraft and helicopters. India has also expressed interest in the USA’s E-2 Hawkeye carrier AWACS aircraft, which would be a natural fit for its new ship.
AIR F-18F Over CV-63 USS Kitty Hawk
F/A-18F over CV-63
(click to view full)
As a number of sources point out, this is a multi-pronged move that would achieve several objectives at once. First, the offer removes all Russian negotiating leverage over India by removing the issues of sunk costs, foreign possession of the Vikramaditya, and any danger of being left without a carrier. The Indian Navy would be greatly strengthened, and its ability to police the Indian Ocean from the Straits of Malacca to South Africa would take a huge leap forward. Any additional work to upgrade or refurbish the carrier could be undertaken in India, providing jobs and expertise while maintaining full national control over the refit. The USA gains financial benefits of its own, as the Navy avoids the expensive task of steaming the Kitty Hawk home and decommissioning it. Americans would almost certainly receive maintenance contracts for the steam catapults, and possibly for some new electronics, but those economic benefits pale in comparison to the multi-billion dollar follow-on wins for Boeing (Super Hornet), Northrop Grumman (E-2 Hawkeye), and possibly even Lockheed Martin (F-16 E/F, F-35B). All of which works to cement a growing strategic alliance between the two countries, and creates deep defense industrial ties as well.
Then there’s the effect on Russia, whose relations with the USA currently border on outright hostility. With the MiG-29Ks no longer necessary for India, that contract would almost certainly be canceled. At which point, the commonality value of choosing the MiG-35 as a lower-cost secondary MMRCA buy drops sharply, opening the door for other MMRCA split-buy options that could include the Saab/BAE JAS-39 Gripen, or a complementary American offer of F-16E/Fs and/or F-35Bs. The combined effect of these blows would be a severe setback for Russia’s arms industry, though rising oil & gas revenues in Russia and other export opportunities may lead to less shrinkage and civilian re-purposing than publications like the Weekly Standard believe. The question now is: will this happen? Barents Observer |
Weekly Standard | Information Dissemination: Feb 20th/ 23rd.
Feb 21/08: “Galrahn” of the respected blog Information Dissemination passes a key tip along to DID. First, recall that the Sevmash shipyard in Severodvinsk, Archangel Oblast is responsible for the Gorshkov refit. Until recently, they also had a $544 million contract to build up to 12 tankers for the Norwegian shipping form Odfjell. When it was signed in 2004, it was promoted as “a historic deal in Norwegian-Russian industrial relations.”
Now it has been canceled, and Odfjell CEO Terje Storeng has used terms like “no will to try to understand that this is a commercial project,” “deliberately sabotaged and delayed the project” et. al. to Dagens Næringsliv. He adds:
“Following serious delays in the construction process, combined with demands for further price increases from the Yard, continuous cooperation problems as well as protracted negotiations, Odfjell decided today to serve formal notice of cancellation to Sevmash. The instalments already paid are covered by standard refund guarantees from international banks. Odfjell will further claim full compensation for its costs and losses caused, on account of wilful misconduct and massive contract breaches by the Yard. Unless the matter is solved amicably between the parties, the issue will be solved by arbitration in Sweden, as provided for in the contract.”
Note the Russian official’s comments in the Feb 7/08 entry. Closure may once again become a very real possibility for Sevmash. Worse, Odfjell’s experience has to give India serious pause re: the reliability of Russia’s new refit cost estimates, and the likelihood of further extortion to ‘adjust’ the deal down the road. Barents Observer | Dagens Naeringsliv report [Norwegian] | Odjfell.NO release
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.”
AIR Ka-28 Indian Navy lg
Ka-28
(click to view larger)
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.”

Additional Readings: Ship

  • Bharat Rakshak – INS Viraat (formerly HMS Hermes, last of the British Centaur Class).

Appendix B: Additional Readings – Related Developments

  • Asia Times (Dec 9/09) – India displays multi-vector diplomacy. Offers one take on the larger strategic background behind India’s ties with Russia. M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service whose assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.
  • BBC (Oct 23/09) – Crucial Indian defence deals delayed. These include the Navy’s submarine and aircraft carrier projects, advanced trainers for the air force, and coastal surveillance plans. “For its part, the government has been slow in responding to criticism – even from its auditing organisation. When it comes to defence issues in India, speed does not seem to be of paramount importance.”
  • 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.
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