Even as India and Russia prepare to end the row over price escalation for aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov during Defence Minister A. K. Antony this week, new problems may crop up in the wide-ranging defence cooperation between the two countries.

Defence sources in Russia and India said a deal on a higher price for Gorshkov, rechristened INS Vikramaditya, may be inked on the sidelines of the Mr. Antony’s visit on October 13-15.

However, a Russian source suggested the possibility of further delays in Gorshkov delivery. The Vedomosti business daily quoted an unnamed Russian Defence industry official involved in the Gorshkov talks as saying that the vessel might be handed over to the Indian Navy in 2013, a year later than promised earlier.

Under a 2004 package deal worth $1.5 billion, Russia was to upgrade Gorshkov by 2008 at a cost of $1.5 billion, which included the manufacture of 16 MiG-29K fighter aircraft for use on the aircraft carrier. However, the Russians said last year that it would take an extra $1.2 billion and four years to complete what turned out to be a far more massive volume of refit work.

A leading Russian Defence expert said another joint project — a medium-haul military transport aircraft (MTA) — had hit rough waters. The project has fallen badly behind schedule and its prospects look increasingly dim, arms export analyst Konstantin Makienko of the CAST think tank claims.

Under the original accord signed in 2001 between Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd., the first prototype of the MTA was to have been built by 2006 and series production launched in 2009.

However, “As of late 2009, the project has not progressed beyond the schematic design stage it had reached six years ago, while its internal structure and its competitive environment have deteriorated dramatically,” the expert wrote in the latest issue of Defence Brief magazine.

Negative factors

The expert list several negative factors affecting the MTA: the Irkut Corporation has pulled out of the project; Russia revived its joint project with Ukraine for a rival aircraft, An-70; and the Brazilian Embraer has embarked on a new tactical tanker and transport aircraft, KC-390, which is likely to beat the MTA in the world market.

A Russia aviation industry spokesman said the MTA project was very much alive despite the delays, which he explained as teething problems of the newly established United Aircraft Corporation (UAC).

UAC spokesman Konstantin Lantratov told The Hindu that a Russian-Indian Joint Venture for the MTA would be signed after the UAC sets up a commercial aircraft division early next month. The new joint engineering centre, comprising the Yakovlev, Tupolev and Ilyushin design bureaus, would be well equipped to design the MTA, the spokesman said.

These issues are expected to figure prominently at the Indo-Russian Inter-governmental Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation when it meets here on October 14 under the co-chair of Mr. Antony and his Russian counterpart, Anatoly Serdyukov.

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