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India-Russia defence talks: Aircraft carrier delay to top agenda

Posted on Oct 03, 08:49PM | IANS

Ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit here, the defence ministers of India and Russia will hold talks here Thursday during which the delay in the delivery of the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya to the Indian Navy will top the agenda.

Defence Minister A.K. Antony and his Russian counterpart Anatoly Serdyukov will co-chair the meeting of the India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation (IR-IGMTC).

The delay in the aircraft carrier's refit will figure in the discussions, navy officers here said.

The talks are part of a series of preparatory meetings to set the agenda for the annual summit between the leaders of India and Russia. Putin's is expected to visit India in early November and hold talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

India and Russia are also expected to discuss ongoing projects for 272 Sukhoi-30MKI fighters and 1,657 T-90 main-battle tanks. Despite irritants like cost overruns and delays in the delivery of military hardware, Russia remains India's largest supplier of weapons, accounting for over 60 percent of India's imports.

The defence ministers' talks take place amid reports in sections of the Russian media indicating that the handing over of INS Vikramaditya has been delayed till the fall of 2013 following recent sea trials which revealed serious problems in its boilers.

The Indian side will press Russia to expedite the fault-fixing and deliver the aircraft in the next six-seven months at the most, the sources said.

According to the reworked contract the refurbished carrier has to be delivered to India by December 4. However, due to a leeway clause of another 3-4 months, Russia can still meet its contractual obligation by delivering the carrier by March-April, 2013. If it fails to do so, the Indian side may consider penalties.

A Russian state commission held last week at the Sevmash shipyard, which carried out the refit, assessed the period necessary to fix the ship's propulsion system. "The commission came to the conclusion it was necessary to extend the handover date to fall 2013 due to the need to fix all the faults found, including the insulation of the ship's boilers," a source told RIA Novosti.

The deal for the purchase of the Russian aircraft carrier was clinched for USD 947 million dollars in 2004, but the delivery has already been delayed twice, pushing up the cost of refurbishing the vessel to USD 2.3 billion.

The delay has jeopardised the Indian Navy's plans to deploy two operational carrier battle groups (CBGs) by 2015. Besides the Vikramaditya delay, the delivery schedule of the 40,000-tonne indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC) being built at Cochin Shipyard has also been extended to 2018.