India on Monday said long-time ally Russia would finally hand over a refurbished aircraft carrier next year and end a bitter dispute over the Soviet-era warship caused by rising costs and delays.
The 30-year-old Admiral Gorshkov, renamed INS Vikramaditya, is to fill a vacuum left by the scrapping in 1997 of India’s first aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant.
“The delivery of Vikramaditya has been delayed to the last quarter of 2013 against the envisaged delivery schedule of December 2012,” Defence Minister A.K. Antony told parliament’s lower house.
Antony said India would meantime manage with its lone aircraft carrier — a 59-year-old British vessel acquired by India in 1987 and renamed INS Viraat.
“The operational requirements of the Navy will be met by INS Viraat, which will remain in service till the induction of Vikramaditya,” he said.
India, which is spending tens of billions of dollars to upgrade its military, is also planning an indigenously built aircraft carrier but that project as well has been hit by delays.
Moscow accounts for 70 percent of Indian arms supplies but late deliveries and commercial disagreements have annoyed New Delhi and prompted it to use other suppliers such as Israel, Britain, France and the United States.
The original delivery date was August 2008, Antony said, with its price tag fixed at $978.4 million in 2004 at the time the deal was signed. But the cost was “revised” to $2.3 billion for delivery in 2012, he said.
“The total cost of the project will remain at $2.3 billion at the time of delivery in the last quarter of 2013,” he assured parliament and added that technical glitches during trials had led to the delay.
The 44,570-tonne warship required new turbines, boilers, 2,500 kilometres (1,500 miles) of cabling and reinforcement of its flight deck as part of the deal between India and Russian defence export firm Rosoboronexport.
Under the contract, Russian shipyard Sevmash has equipped the vessel with modern weapons, 16 MiG-29 fighter jets and a fleet of anti-submarine helicopters.
The shipyard has insisted that the dramatic rise in the cost is mainly due to Indian demands for features not included in the original contract.
New Delhi had voiced unhappiness with the state of the ship’s weapons and basic equipment.
The diesel-powered Gorshkov was launched in 1982 and entered military service six years later. It was hit by a separate boiler room explosion in 1994 that killed six seamen and put the ship out of commission.
Russia last December handed over the 8,140-tonne nuclear-powered attack submarine Nerpa to India following more than two years of delays.