'India has to fork out a lot more for Russian carrier'

Wednesday, 27 February 2008, 08:00 Hrs
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New Delhi: India will have to fork out a substantially higher sum for an aircraft carrier it has purchased from Russia as the $970 million previously agreed to for its refurbishment was not "doable", a top defence ministry official said Wednesday.

"The figure of $970 million is perhaps not seriously doable," Defence Secretary Vijay Singh, who has just returned from Moscow after discussions on the Russian demand for an additional $1.2 billion for the Admiral Gorshkov, told reporters here.

"It's hard to put a figure. It could be even more than that," Singh said, adding that the two countries hoped to resolve the issue by the end of March.

Under a deal they signed in 2004, India was to buy from Russia the carrier, re-christened INS Vikramaditya, for $1.5 billion. Of this, $970 million was meant for the refurbishment and the remaining $530 million for the MiG-29K fighter jets and Kamov surveillance and anti-submarine warfare helicopters that will be deployed on the vessel.

The increased cost, the Russians say, has been necessitated by the new engines and boilers the ship requires, "hundreds of miles" of cabling, the strengthening of the flight deck, refurbishing the arrester wires and other safety equipment, as also the extensive sea trials the ship will have to undergo after the refit.

"We have drawn up a list of the revised scope of work. This is now being finalised on an item-by-item basis after which the additional cost will be worked out," Singh said.

"We will look at the essentiality of refurbishment required and the reasonableness of the increased money being demanded. We will hold one meeting here and another in Russia and hope to sew this up by the end of March," he added.

As for the 18-month-long sea trials that are likely to begin in 2010, he said the possibility of a part of these being conducted in India was being examined in a bid to lower costs.

Once the revised price is arrived at, this would be submitted to the cabinet committee on security (CCS) for approval.

"What we would be getting is a ship that would be in service for 30 years," Singh pointed out.

Independent analysts pointed out that even if India were to meet the entire demand for the additional $1.2 billion - at $2.7 billion - the ship would come at a bargain as the cost of building a new aircraft carrier is in the region of $4 billion.

Singh, who also visited the Sevmash shipyard near the Arctic Circle where the carrier is being refurbished, discounted reports that the Russians could cancel the deal if India did not pay the escalated cost.

"They never said they want the ship for themselves. They only needed a reaffirmation from us that we want it. We told them the question of giving up the ship did not arise," the official added.

During a meeting with Russian Industry Minister Viktor Khristenko, Singh was told: "You have to trust us. We are embarrassed but there really was no choice (to raise the price)."

"The project is of highest importance," Khristenko added for good measure.

Toward this, Singh pointed out that the refurbishment work on the Vikramaditya was on in full swing at the Sevmash shipyard.

Sevmash is one of Russia's oldest shipyards and is where most of Russia's nuclear submarines have been built. It has 28,000 workers, of whom 1,200 have been deployed on the Vikramaditya.

"They need another 500 workers for the carrier and have asked us whether we would like to send some. We have trained manpower in our yards and are examining whether we can send some 100 of them," Singh said.
Source: IANS
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