Delays in Gorshkov deal impeding Navy’s modernisation plans

Ajay Vaishnav / Zee Research Group

The Indian Navy will have to wait for another year (with fingers crossed) before the Gorshkov aircraft carrier, Indianised as INS Vikramaditya, gets delivered in the last quarter of 2013. If anything, it is a huge blow to the Indian Navy’s aircraft carrier programme which is facing dual crisis due to a two-year delay in the commissioning of INS Vikrant. Under construction at the Cochin Shipyard, the indigenously built aircraft carrier was originally slated to enter service in 2015 and will now be commissioned only in 2017 due to technical problems.

The delays deliver body blows to the Indian Navy’s plans to always have two functional aircraft carriers. At present, India’s lone aircraft carrier is INS Viraat centaur class, which too is on extension. It was supposed to retire in 2007 and replaced by INS Vikramaditya (formerly Gorshkov) in 2008, which has now been delayed by five years. In Vikramaditya’s case, the delays have resulted in massive cost escalations as well. From the originally contracted USD 947 million in the 2004 contract with India, Russia has raised the price three-fold to USD 2.3 billion. It may further go up in the wake of the latest delay even though India may impose a penalty of 5 percent.

Isn’t it time India reviews the Gorshkov deal? While many would abhor such an idea on grounds of strategic ties with Russia over the years, there is a strong case for Indian defence administrators to diversify the supply of military hardware. They have already demonstrated the willingness by selecting French Dassault Rafale as the preferred fifth generation fighter aircraft for the Indian Air Force. There is no reason why a similar approach cannot be adopted in the case of the Army and Navy.

Any power equation in Asia will remain incomplete without drawing US into the power equation as the world’s lone superpower is militarily omnipresent. ZRG research shows that Indian navy woefully lags behind the Chinese. Even though both neighbours have just one aircraft carrier in their arsenal, Chinese lead massively in every other weapon type. In a war situation, it is doubtful whether India can match Chinese naval prowess unless backed by Japan or the US.