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India’s Soviet-era carrier arrives 6 yrs late Vessel ‘signifies a state presence more than any other warship’

NEW DELHI, Jan 8, (AFP): Arefurbished former Soviet aircraft carrier arrived Wednesday in India six years late, ending a wrangle that strained ties with the country’s top arms supplier Russia. The Cold War-era ship, which set sail from the Russian city of Severodvinsk in mid-November, was escorted by Indian warships into Indian waters. A naval spokesman said the INS Vikramaditya had arrived at Karwar, its home base in the western state of Karnataka.

Critics have described the Vikramaditya, built as the Admiral Gorshkov and originally commissioned in 1987, as a white elephant because of its higher-than-expected price tag and long delays in arriving. A preliminary pact for refurbishing the vessel was signed in 1998 — two years after the Kremlin mothballed the 44,500-ton carrier. It took six years for the two sides to reach a final agreement that valued the deal at $771 million and stipulated delivery in 2008. But the cost of refitting the 284-metre (937- foot) ship ballooned to $2.3 billion, according to Indian officials. Deadlines were repeatedly extended, creating a bitter wrangle with Russia. “It came out costlier than we anticipated,” said retired rear admiral Raja Menon, chairman of a strategic unit in the government’s National Security Council. But Menon told AFP the vessel “signifies a state presence more than any other warship”.

Russia accounts for 70 percent of military hardware for India which is currently the world’s largest arms importer, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. The Vikramaditya is intended to shore up India’s defences as it seeks to counter a military build-up by an assertive China. “It was hardly used by the Soviets so we can expect a good 30 years from it,” said Menon. Currently, India has just one aircraft carrier — the INS Viraat which was also commissioned in 1987 — and it unveiled an under-construction locally made carrier in August. The Vikramaditya has been refurbished with 2,500 tonnes of steel — enough to build a midsized frigate from scratch — and will be armed with Russian MiG-29 fighter jets and Kamov helicopters. The vessel can carry 8,000 tonnes of fuel to sail 13,000 kilometres (8,060 miles) and sustain a 1,600-sailor crew for 45 days at sea. It has also been redesigned to dish out traditional Indian cuisine.

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