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Oct 11, 2012

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Gorshkov Delay: Reasons and Implications

The delay in delivery of the aircraft carrier Gorshkov nee INS Vikramaditya to India has been in the eye of the storm with reference to India Russia defence cooperation. Indian media has been rife with the news that Russia has faltered by providing poor quality boilers which led to overheating when the Carrier operated at full power during the recent trials. The Russians on the other hand indicated that it was on India’s recommendation fire bricks  were used instead of asbestos insulation to protect the ship’s boilers that had led to overheating. A special joint commission was nominated for examining the reason for the faults during trials of Gorshkov in the White Sea and the Barents Sea, the report of which has not been made public.

During the twelfth meeting of the India-Russia Inter-governmental Commission on Military Technical Cooperation (IRIGCMTC) held on 10th October 2012, Russian Defence Minister Mr A E Serdyukov accepted that the ship's power-plant had "mal-functioned during sea trials" and stated that a new delivery date has been conveyed to India. "We have conveyed to India the new delivery date and hopefully the next sea trials will be carried out in April 2013," Mr Serdyukov added at the Joint Press Conference.

India’s Defence Minister Mr AK Antony to avoid more flak at home highlighted that he had made it clear that delays should be avoided. Mr Antony stated, "I have conveyed our concerns to Russia over the delay. The early delivery of INS Vikramaditya is the key concern of India. We have repeatedly conveyed this concern to Russia. All agencies involved in the trials and deliveries must work overtime to deliver the ship as early as possible," he said.

Russian defense minister in turn confirmed that the delivery would be by end of 2013. "We believe it will happen in the fourth quarter of 2013. We need to test everything so that we are sure we are transferring an operable aircraft carrier of perfect quality," said Serdyukov at the joint press meet.

Another meeting specific to Vikramaditya is due on 15 October of the IRIGCMTC in Delhi to finally resolve the issue prior to the Russia-India summit in November 2012.

The issue of financial compensation for delay of about Rs 600 Crore or USD 120 million was also debated in the media. However preliminary indications are that India may not be able to claim any compensation. Andrei Dyachkov, president of the Russian United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC), reported the delay to Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Dmitry Rogozin, responsible for the Russian military industrial complex and for military and technical cooperation. As per Dyachkov quoted in an RIR report, “three cooling machines, nitrogen generators and a whole range of other equipment supplied from NATO countries broke down”. “These suppliers were proposed by the Indian side,” stated Dyachkov

Reports appearing in the media including the RIR which were reviewed by Security- Risks indicate the use of Chinese made fireproof brick at the insistence of the Indian Navy instead of asbestos which is said to be the major reason for the fault. The eight boilers for the Gorshkov were manufactured in 2004-2005 at the Baltic Shipyard in St Petersburg, along with one extra boiler. While tests were carried out at the Special Design Office in St Petersburg, this was with asbestos for insulation while for installed boilers on the Carrier fire proof bricks were used as per a report in the Russia India Report (RIR).  

The Russians also agreed that there were some workmanship problems. “But it’s not about the brick itself or who manufactured it,” explains Igor Leonov Sevmash engineer in charge for the project to RIR. “The work done to fit it inside the boilers was of poor quality. We discovered this back in July, when we began to run speed trials and started raising the temperature in the boilers to maximum values…,” he added.

 While these flaws were noticed other trials such as aviation operations and electronics and weapons tests continued. The MiG test flights on the carrier were carried out with loads of fuel tanks in August with the final landings on 2 September to the satisfaction of the Indian members. “The final landing by a MiG-29 on Vikramaditya’s deck was on September 2,” explains Leonov. “By that time we had taken on board more than 400 members of the Indian crew, headed by Captain Suraj Berry. It was decided that while the ship was being repaired in Severodvinsk, only 40 crew members and their commander would remain, plus officers from the Indian Navy observation group, as before,” he added as per a report in the RIR.

It is estimated that repairs to the boilers are not likely to cause any major disruption at the Sevmash yard and can be done without any disturbance to the ship’s hull. This is likely to take about four to five months.  The repair work has reportedly commenced and replacing the brick insulation which is labour intensive will be completed by February 2013 and date for docking the aircraft carrier has been approved for April 25, 2013. With another two months for mandatory dry dock testing the ship is like to sail on July 3, 2013. Indian side has also asked for diesel as the main fuel for the Vikramaditya’s eight boilers.

The aircraft carrier will have a maximum design speed of 30 knots and will be able to maneouvre at top speed with new high-quality thermal insulated boilers. “This summer, with the boilers not working at full capacity, we were getting 28–29 knots. And when we lift the limitations we had to impose, Vikramaditya will add another two or three knots,” Leonov concludes. “I personally have no doubt about that.”
     
With repeated delays there are reports in the Indian media of a commitment trap in which India has fallen from which it is finding it difficult to get out. First there were renegotiations on pricing and now the technical problems. Operationally for India delay in induction of the INS Vikramaditya will be a major factor in upsetting Indian Navy’s plans for deploying two Carrier Battle Groups in the Indian Ocean by 2015.

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