The ship encountered big malfunction with the main power plant and the boiler: Serdyukov

Russia on Wednesday said aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov would now be handed over only by the end of next year and though India expressed “serious concern’’ over the delay, there was no move as yet to consider invoking the penalty clause in the contract because “technical teams were still going back and forth,” said highly-placed government sources.

With Russian President Vladimir Putin’s personal intervention on at least two occasions failing to avoid yet another slippage in the deadline for delivering the carrier to the Indian Navy, Defence Minister A.K. Antony, at a joint press conference with his visiting counterpart, Anatoly Serdyukov, said India had flagged the issue prominently at all high-level meetings with the Russians.

Interacting with the media at the end of the 12th meeting of the India-Russia Inter-governmental Commission on Military Technical Cooperation (IR-IGMTC), Mr. Antony said he wanted “all agencies involved in trials and delivery of the warship to adopt a wartime approach to complete the trials so that delivery can be as early as possible.”

The source said the issue of slapping a penalty was still nebulous at this stage. “It is true,” he said, “that India had requested for a special boiler lining but in the end both sides agreed to make modifications to ensure the carrier worked well at high speeds… You can concede that this [malfunctioning of boilers] was an unexpected development because in an old machine, no one knows how a particular gadget will function till it is put through trials.”

“As for the penalty clause, technical teams are still going back and forth. We also have 1,000 of our naval personnel there. At this stage we don’t know whether this delay will be treated as force majeure or a slippage by the refurbishers,” the source added. Mr. Antony was cautious when asked about this. “Other issues we are not discussing here... not now. Now our main issue is early delivery,” he replied to a query.

Though Mr. Serdyukov’s visit was extremely short and Gorshkov occupied the media spotlight, the warmth in India-Russian ties was reflected, as senior officials pointed out, in “natural, free and frank” exchange of views. Mr. Antony observed that both countries had gone through critical phases but “we have come out of them and have maintained our friendship.”

The two sides also discussed another force multiplier — utilising Glonass, the Russian satellite constellation — for military use. On the table was the prospect of jointly manufacturing satellite receivers that would avoid dependence of the Indian armed forces on one satellite chain.

India has been exploring the possibility of utilising the Russian constellation after imbibing the lessons of the Gulf War during which the Iraqi military’s lack of options caused its missiles to go off target.

Some of the important deals discussed at the IRIGMTC meeting were orders for 42 more Su30 MKI fighters, 59 more Mi-17 V5 helicopters and missile systems for the P-75 submarine. The interaction also helped iron out certain ticklish issues and problem areas, including design features of the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft, upgrade and technology transfer of T-90 tanks and air version of supersonic BrahMos missiles.

On the Gorshkov, the Russian Defence Minister provided a status report: “We have handed over the revised overhaul and transfer schedule to the Indian side. The ship encountered big malfunction with the main power plant and the boiler. Right now it is relocated to the factory for inspections to examine the reasons for the malfunctions encountered so far. Such projects are of high sophistication. It is a complicated thing to put together this size of a ship. That is why it takes time and it has taken time already... We are starting a new ship from scratch because this is a complete refitting of an old ship.”

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