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India, Russia sign Gorshkov deal

The Defence Minister George Fernandes, with the Russian counterpart, Sergei Ivanov, at the South Block in New Delhi on Tuesday.- Photo: V.Sudarshan

The Defence Minister George Fernandes, with the Russian counterpart, Sergei Ivanov, at the South Block in New Delhi on Tuesday.- Photo: V.Sudarshan  

NEW DELHI, JAN. 20. India today signed its biggest-ever defence deal with Russia for the purchase of the aircraft-carrier, Admiral Gorshkov, along with the deck-based MiG-29K fighter aircraft and other systems, including torpedo tubes, missile systems and artillery units. The visiting Russian Defence Minister, Sergei Ivanov, put the value of the contract at $1.5 billion (over Rs. 7,000 crores).

With the signing of the agreement by officials, witnessed by Mr. Ivanov and his counterpart, George Fernandes, the aircraft-carrier will be extensively modernised over the next four years. It is now berthed at a Russian naval port after an engine room fire. Gorshkov will replace India's only aircraft carrier, INS Viraat. Its induction in 2008 will ensure that the Navy does not lose its expertise in handling aircraft carriers. The agreement marks yet another milestone in Indo-Russian defence cooperation. Both countries are now implementing multi-thousand crore deals for advanced fighter aircraft, tanks and naval frigates.

Speaking at a joint press conference, both Defence Ministers said talks were on to take the buyer-seller relationship to a higher plane that will include joint research and development of military hardware. The two sides have already made a beginning in this direction with the joint development of the supersonic missile, Brahmos. The Russian naval chief, Vladimir Kureodov, and his Indian counterpart, Madhvendra Singh, were present.

The refurbished aircraft carrier, along with its complement of MiG air superiority fighters, will add a lethal punch to the naval armoury. It is considered a major improvement over the INS Viraat, which has technically reached the end of its service life, and its aged Sea Harrier fighters. The Navy will thus become among the few in the world to continue with the tradition of maintaining an aircraft carrier in its armada. Though the Navy suggested that three carriers will ideal, the high cost of acquiring and maintaining them has deterred the Government from acceding to its wish.

India may add another aircraft carrier by 2010 if indigenous efforts in this direction are successful. Defence Ministry officials insist that Gorshkov was the only option in the world market to avoid a vacuum in the aircraft carrier department after Viraat's retirement.

Mr. Ivanov said that more military deals were in the offing. However, except for one, he declined to reveal details of other deals on the ground that the area of military purchases was "very sensitive and competitive" and discussing them in public would be "prejudicial and detrimental" to the ongoing negotiations. Both Ministers were emphatic in denying that they had discussed the leasing of Russian nuclear submarines. The only impending deal revealed by Mr. Ivanov pertained to TU-22 long-range bombers but the Minister added that the planes to be supplied to India would "not be strategic in range and action", meaning safeguards may be introduced to ensure they were not used as nuclear delivery platforms.

Apart from moving forward in Research and Development cooperation, the two Ministers also discussed the possibility of holding more joint exercises, international security, with the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq figuring prominently, counter terrorism and non-proliferation. There was a convergence of views on all these issues, said Mr. Ivanov.

Mr. Fernandes said the talks held today and on Monday were "fruitful, frank and productive". "Bilateral defence ties are on excellent track," he added.

With the signing of the Gorshkov deal, Russia continues to retain its position as the top supplier of defence hardware to India although New Delhi is also sourcing equipment from other countries. Late last year, India had signed a mega deal for advanced jet trainers from British Aerospace. It had also signed agreements with the United States for advanced Army radars and with Israel for electronic warfare equipment, assault rifles and aircraft mounted radars for the Air Force. With the elections around the corner, the Defence Ministry is keen on pushing through another mega deal for assembling French submarines in India.

Mr. Ivanov called on the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister and National Security Adviser, Brajesh Mishra. All the three service chiefs and the Defence Secretary, Ajay Prasad, called on Mr. Ivanov. He will leave for sightseeing in Agra tomorrow before emplaning for Russia.

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