India Would Love to Return this Aircraft Carrier It Bought from Russia
Here's What You Need to Remember: In the early 2000s, India went shop for a new aircraft carrier. What followed was a military-industrial nightmare.
Like a lot of countries, India wants the best wons it can afford. But ideological and financial concerns mean there are a lot of things it won’t buy from the United States or Europe. That pretty much leaves, well, Russia.
India has been a big buyer of Russian wons for 50 years. Those haven’t been easy years for New Delhi. India’s defense contracts with Russia have consistently suffered delays and cost overruns. And the resulting hardware doesn’t always work.
Of all India’s Russian procurement woes, none speak more to the dysfunctional relationship between the two countries than the saga of INS Vikrditya. In the early 2000s, India went shop for a new aircraft carrier. What followed was a military-industrial nightmare.
Wanted—one new(ish) carrier
In 1988, the Soviet Union commissioned the aircraft carrier Baku. She and her four sisters of the Kiev class represented a unique Soviet design. The front third resembled a heavy cruiser, with 12 giant SS-N-12 anti-ship missiles, up to 192 surface-to-air missiles and two 100-millimeter deck guns. The remaining two-thirds of the ship was basically an aircraft carrier, with an angled flight deck and a hangar.
Baku briefly served in the Soviet navy until the USSR dissolved in 1991. Russia inherited the vessel, renamed her Admiral Gorshkov and kept her on the rolls of the new Russian navy until 1996. After a boiler room explosion, likely due to a lack of maintenance, Admiral Gorshkov went into mothballs.
In the early 2000s, India faced a dilemma. The Indian navy’s only carrier INS Viraat was set to retire in 2007. Carriers help India assert influence over the Indian Ocean—not to mention, they’re status symbols. New Delhi needed to replace Viraat, and fast.
India’s options were limited. The only countries building carriers at the time—the United States, France and Italy—were building ships too big for India’s checkbook. In 2004, India and Russia struck a deal in which India would receive Admiral Gorshkov. The ship herself would be free, but India would pay $974 million dollars to Russia to upgrade her.
It was an ambitious project. At 44,500 tons, Admiral Gorshkov was a huge ship. Already more than a decade old, she had spent eight years languishing in mothballs. Indifference and Russia’s harsh winters are unkind to idle ships.
Russia would transform the vessel from a helicopter carrier with a partial flight deck to an aircraft carrier with a launch ramp and a flight deck just over 900 feet long. She would be capable of supporting 24 MiG-29K fighters and up to 10 Kamov helicopters.
A real aircraft carrier for less than a billion dollars sounds almost too good to be true. And it was.
In 2007, just a year before delivery, it became clear that Russia’s Sevmash shipyard couldn’t meet the ambitious deadline. Even worse, the yard demanded more than twice as much money—$2.9 billion in total—to complete the job.
The cost of sea trials alone, originally $27 million, ballooned to a fantastic $550 million.
A year later, with the project still in disarray, Sevmash estimated the carrier to be only 49-percent complete. Even more galling, one Sevmash executive suggested that India should pay an additional $2 billion, citing a “market price” of a brand-new carrier at “between $3 billion and $4 billion.”
Like many contractors, defense or otherwise, Sevmash had its unhappy employer over a barrel. With the job halfway done, and having already dropped $974 million, India could not afford to walk away from the deal. Russia knew it, and was blunt about India’s options. “If India does not pay up, we will keep the aircraft carrier,” one defense ministry offi al told RIA-Novosti.
‘There will be grave consequences’
By 2009, the project was deadlocked and word was starting to get around the defense industry. Russian arms exports for 2009 totaled $8 billion, and Sevmash’s delays and extortionary tactics weren’t good for the Russian defense industry as a whole.
In July 2009, Russia’s then-presi nt Dmitri Medvedev made a high-profile visit to the Sevmash shipyard. Indian news reported that the carrier was still half-done, meaning that the yard had done virtually no work on the ship for two years as it held out for more money.
Medvedev publicly scolded Sevmash offi als. “You need to complete [Vikrditya] and hand it over our partners,” the visibly irritated presi nt told Sevmash general director Niko Kalistratov.
In 2010, the Indian go nment agreed to more than double the budget for the carrier to $2.2 billion. This was less than the $2.9 billion Sevmash demanded, and much less than Sevmash’s suggested “market price” of $4 billion.
Suddenly, Sevmash magically started working harder—actually, twice as hard—and finished the other half of the upgrades in only three years. Vikrditya finally entered sea trials in August 2012 and commissioned into the Indian navy in November 2013.
At the commissioning ceremony, Indian Defense Minister AK Anthony expressed relief that the ordeal was over, telling the press that there was a time “when we thought we would never get her.”
Now that Vikrditya is finally in service, India’s problems are over, ? Not by a long shot. Incredibly, India has chosen Sevmash to do out-of-warranty work on the ship for the next 20 years.
Kee Vikrditya supplied with spare parts will be a major task in itself. Ten Indian contractors helped to build the carrier, but so did more than 200 other contractors in Russia, Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Japan, Finland, France, Norway, Poland, Sweden and the U.K. Some countries, particularly Japan, were likely unaware they were exporting parts for a foreign wons sy em.
The ship’s boilers, which provide Vikrditya with power and propulsion, are a long-term concern. All eight boilers are new. But yard workers discovered defects in them. During her trip from Russia to India, the flattop suffered a boiler breakdown, which Sevmash chalked up to poor-quality firebricks.
denied ever exporting the firebricks.
Finally, Vikrditya lacks active air defenses. The ship has chaff and flare sy ems to lure away anti-ship missiles, but she doesn’t have any close-in wons sy ems like the American Phnx.
Did they ever in a thousand years expect to get a good deal from Russia?
They didn’t get the ocean towing service and fleet tug at that price?!
Kind of like buying a ch car, you get what you pay for.
Maybe they can also by the Russian Towing Service that the Russians use for there own fleet.
Russia puts screen doors on their submarines for ventilation.
There was a no refund policy in the contract.
US Aircraft Carriers are seemingly the best and the most expensive. US Health Sy em is also the best and most expensive. The "flattop" is $15 billion, all fitted. One day in hospital in the US (unfitted) is $10K. God bless America.
They didn’t keep the receipt?
Make one up
You don't know what happens in the background. It is a learning lesson for India to build aircraft carriers.
Let's sell a retired aircraft carrier to India, I am sure they are willing to pay for it.
OF COURSE WE GIVE WARRANTY
RussianTanks,small arms,artillery Ok. Navy ships no way.
Could have purchased two from for that money. Maybe one would work.
Russian wons sy em are more of a threat to the users than the enemy.
India should buy it from -- it will be built on time and for half the price I guess!
I guess they didn't get the extended warranty
Trump = Greatest Presi nt of All Time
Good things are seldom ch and ch things are seldom good.
India needs to buy US equipment if they want to win ag inst .