India to induct Russian-built carrier, five years late
Graphic explaining possible functions of India's new aircraft carrier, scheduled to go into service in 2018
The Soviet-era INS Vikramaditya will set sail from the Sevmash shipyard in the Russian city of Severodvinsk and reach Indian waters early next year.
"Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony will commission INS Vikramaditya on Saturday. There will be some ships that will escort the Vikramaditya back to its port in India," navy spokesman P.V.S. Satish told AFP.
The induction of Vikramaditya, built as the Admiral Gorshkov and originally commissioned in 1987, is intended to shore up India's defence capabilities as it seeks to counter a military build-up by an increasingly assertive China.
Currently, India has just one aircraft carrier -- the INS Viraat which was also commissioned in 1987 -- but it unveiled an under-construction domestically produced carrier in August.
The original memorandum of understanding for its transfer was signed in 1998 -- two years after the Kremlin mothballed the carrier.
The final deal was inked in 2004 and was initially valued at $771 million as per current exchange rates with stipulated delivery in 2008.
But the price of revamping the 284-metre (937-foot) ship later ballooned to $2.3 billion, according to Indian media reports, while deadlines were extended time and again, embittering ties with Russia which accounts for 70 percent of India's military hardware.
"This is no way to carry out international trade practices as it is a breach of promise," said Mrinal Suman, who heads a defence advisory group in the Confederation of Indian Industry trade lobby.
"The Russians knew how desperate we were and they exploited that and took India for a ride," the former major general, one of India's top arms procurement specialists, told AFP.
Of late, India, world's largest arms buyer, has turned to Israel, Britain, France and the United States for hardware.
Five warships will escort the unarmed Vikramaditya due to security issues as it passes through a classified route, a defence ministry official who did not want to be quoted, said.
The three-month trial of the ship was concluded in September during which it successfully demonstrated its "stealth mode by blinding incoming aircraft with its electronic warfare suite", the Indian Express said.
The ministry official said it has been refurbished with 2,500 tonnes of steel -- enough to build a mid-sized frigate from scratch -- and will be armed with Russian MiG-29 fighter jets and Kamov helicopters.
Vikramaditya can carry 8,000 tonnes of fuel to sail 13,000 kilometres (8,060 miles) and sustain a crew of 1,600 sailors for 45 days at sea with a capacity to store 16 tonnes of rice, 2,000 litres of milk and 100,000 eggs, the official said.
The 44,500-ton carrier has also been redesigned to dish out traditional Indian cuisine, the official added.
India's already depleted naval force received a major setback in August when a Russian-made submarine the INS Sindhurakshak exploded in a Mumbai dock, killing all 18 crewmen on board.
The vessel, which has still not been refloated due to administrative and technical problems, had been returned by Russia shortly before following a major refit.
A floating airfield, the INS Vikramaditya will also have a team of Russian experts on board who will monitor and assist their Indian counterparts during the home journey.
The Russian crew will remain in India for a year as part of the guarantee contract to ensure the carrier does not develop any snag, the Express daily said.
Ajit Kumar Singh, a research fellow with the New Delhi-based Institute of Conflict Management, was sceptical about the usefulness of the ship, calling it a "white elephant" that India would find tough to maintain.
"These big ships are of use only during wars. And I don't see any conventional war happening in near future," he said.
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