Russia hands over much delayed aircraft carrier to India

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 November, 2013, 5:55am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 November, 2013, 5:55am

Russia handed over a US$2.3 billion aircraft carrier to India yesterday after years of delays, extending the South Asian country's maritime reach in the Indian Ocean as it looks to counter China's assertive presence in the region.

The handover, at a shipyard near the Arctic Circle, underlined close defence ties between Russia, the world's No2 arms exporter, and the world's largest arms customer, India.

But while India remains Russia's biggest buyer, it has started to look to new military suppliers and aims to build more equipment itself. It has recently rolled out new military purchase rules to lure local private companies.

The retooled Soviet-era ship was commissioned into the Indian navy at the Sevmash shipyard in Severodvinsk on the White Sea in a ceremony attended by Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin and Indian defence minister A.K. Antony.

"What happened [yesterday] is a demonstration of the readiness and restored ability of our country to build warships of such a class," Rogozin told journalists in televised comments from the shipyard.

The ship, built in the final years of the Soviet Union and named the Admiral Gorshkov, will now be escorted by warships to India in a two-month voyage from Russia's northern coast. It has been renamed INS Vikramaditya. A recent upgrade means that the carrier, originally designed to carry Yak-38 vertical take-off aircraft, can carry Mig-29K fighter jets.

It can carry up to 30 aircraft and will have a crew of around 2,000. India signed a deal to buy the carrier in 2004 after a decade of negotiations. Its reconditioning was to be finished in 2009, but the price was increased and delivery postponed until last year under a new deal, according to the Indian navy. The handover was later delayed by another year.

India's first aircraft carrier, British-built, was bought in the 1960s and decommissioned in 1997. Another ex-British carrier, the INS Viraat, is in operation but is reaching the end of its service.

India is on a push to modernise its mostly Soviet-era military.