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BAY OF BENGAL (Sept. 7, 2007) - An F/A-18F Super Hornet assigned to the Strike Fighter Squadron 102, left, and an F/A-18E Super Hornet from Strike Fighter Squadron 27, foreground, fly in formation with two Indian Navy Sea Harriers, bottom, and two Indian Air Force Jaguars, right, over USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) during exercise Malabar 07-2. More than 20,000 personnel from the navies of the United States, Australia, India, Japan and Singapore are participating in the exercise. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jarod Hodge

Facing Russian Carrier Delays, Rising Cost, India Consider the U.S. Alternative

Despite repeated attempts to bridge their differences, India and Russia remain undecided over the cost and scope of work and schedule for the refurbishment and modernization of ex-Russian Navy aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov has yet to be solved, as Moscow and New Delhi remain at par over the cost and content of this monstrous refurbishment project.

The ex-Soviet Navy 'Kiev' class ship Admiral Groshkov  seen during its service with the ex- Soviet Navy. The modification being carried out for India includes the attachment of a ski-jump deck, facilitating conventional takeoff  of MiG-29K aircraft.The Russian carrier, to be renamed Vikramaaditya, was planned to be the core of India's new three-carrier naval oceangoing force. The 273 meter long Kiev Class ship was built at the Nikolaeve shipyard in the Ukraine between 1978 and 1987 as a V-STOL carrier designed to operate Yak-38 aircraft. Although the ship was commissioned by the Navy of the Soviet Union in 1991 it was never completed and, therefore, required extensive completion work, in addition to the repair required due to aging, corrosion and preparations to meet customer requirements.

MiG-29KUB (Two seater version) of the navalized version of the MiG-29 Fullcrum, destined for India. Photo: MiG RAC.
Originally, Russia agreed to modernize the ship for about $750 million, as part of a $1.5 billion package which also included 16 MiG-29K/KUB a naval derivative of the MiG-29 Fulcrum. India has an option to buy additional 30 MiG-29Ks for other naval units.
However, after surveying the ship, both sides realized this amount would be insufficient to fulfill the contract. Russia plans to begin delivering the MiGs by mid-2008, about six months after the original schedule but almost four years ahead of the planned handover of the carrier for which they were bought.

The ship's completion was also pushed back to 2012, delaying the original delivery date by four years. The situation was further aggravated by the weakening dollar. Russia demanded an additional $1.2 billion, while India agreed in principle to pay about half of that amount. The Russians claim they are about to complete working on the hull and 'ski-jump' flight deck. However, much work remains on the ship's electronics and weapon systems which have yet to be produced. Among the weapons considered for installation on the Vikramaaditya are the Indo-Russian BrahMos supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles, Barak I ship defense missiles and Kashtan air defense systems.

The ongoing debate presents an opportunity for competitors, such as the U.S.A., which is reportedly planning to submit a proposal to deliver the soon to be decommissioned USS Kitty-Hawk (CV-63) aircraft carrier. In 2006 Washington already transferred USS Trenton, an Amphibious Transport Dock Ship (LPD-14) after it was decommissioned from U.S. Navy service. The U.S. offer will, most likely, be based on a package similar to the Russian offer – a carrier with 65 F/A-18E/F aircraft - the most sophisticated fighters currently in U.S. Navy arsenal - considered to be superior to the MiG-29Ks. While such a proposal could be lucrative for potential selection of this fighter for the upcoming MRCA program, officials in New Delhi are keen to separate the decisions of the air force and navy. While the Indian Air Force is seeking 126 multi-role combat aircraft to replace its MiG-23/27 aircraft, the Navy is expected to require up to 200 aircraft in the next decade, to equip three carrier air wings and replace the current Sea Harrier and Jaguar aircraft operated by the Indian Navy.

For more reading see Reuben F. Johnson's article in The Daily Standard.

 

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