Navy technicians had earlier raised questions over Gorshkov's high pressure boilers. Those anxieties have now been validated
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 18th Sept 12
The Indian Navy’s plan to always have two functional aircraft carriers has just received a second body blow. Already hit by a two-year delay in the indigenous aircraft carrier being built by Cochin Shipyard, now the Russian media has reported that the INS Vikramaditya (formerly the Admiral Gorshkov) has spectacularly failed its ongoing user trials in the Barents Sea.
According to the widely read Russian language daily, Kommersant, seven of the Vikramaditya’s eight boilers broke down, with their firebrick insulation failing due to the high temperatures generated. The press reports stated that the ship would have to be cut open to replace the boilers, a lengthy exercise that can start only next spring.
Consequently the Vikramaditya, which was to originally be delivered to India in 2008, will come only in October 2013 “at the earliest”, says Izvestia daily.
Earlier, Russia had raised the cost of the Vikramaditya three-fold. Along with that, the latest delay makes the aircraft carrier a totem of Russian unreliability as a weapons supplier. From the originally contracted $947 million in the 2004 contract with India, Russia has raised the price to $2.3 billion. Now Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corporation will decide whether the latest debacle will lead to another price hike.
The Indian Navy faces major delays also with the INS Vikrant, which was to enter service in 2015, but which Cochin Shipyard will now deliver only in 2017. Former navy chief, Admiral Nirmal Verma, a press conference in New Delhi on Aug 7th , ascribed the delay to problems with the vessel’s engines and gears, and to an accident in which trucks that were transporting the ships generators from Pune to Kochi overturned en route, damaging the equipment.
The official establishment is remaining silent in the face of this embarrassment. The Russian Embassy in New Delhi told Business Standard said that they had no information beyond what was in the newspapers.
The Indian Navy PRO stated that there was no information yet from the Russian government about the nature and extent of the problem.
However, first reports might have exaggerated the failure on the Vikramditya. Driblets of information are coming in now from some 500 Indian sailors that are on the Gorshkov, observing the trials being conducted by the Russian Navy and by technicians from Sevmash, the shipyard that built the Gorshkov. This information suggests that the Vikramaditya is still moving under its own power, and that the problem with the boilers exists only at high power.
Sources in naval headquarters in New Delhi say that the Vikramaditya is continuing with its aviation trials, in which MiG-29K fighters are still flying from the carrier, testing aviation related systems.
High placed navy sources say they are unsurprised by the failure of the Vikramditya’s boilers. Russia put up the Gorshkov for sale in 1994 after a boiler room explosion incapacitated the vessel. Finding no buyers, Russia offered to give it “free” to the Indian Navy, provided New Delhi paid for its renovation and also bought 16 MiG-29 fighters for $1 billion.
Reporting on the deal in 2004, NDTV, an Indian television news channel, called it “the most expensive freebie in history.”
Navy technicians say that, while evaluating the Gorshkov, they expressed their reservations over its unusual boilers, which generate much higher pressures than conventional warship boilers. Those reservations were dropped after assurances from the Russians.
This ripples from this incident will be felt during next month’s visit of Russian president, Vladimir Putin, to New Delhi. In April, while inducting the Russian-built nuclear-powered submarine INS Chakra, into the Indian Navy, Defence Minister AK Antony had taken a crack at Russian ambassador to India, Alexander Kadakin, who was also present.
“I will remind the Honourable Russian ambassador about his promise to deliver the INS Vikramaditya this year,” said Antony. The navy’s wait seems likely to continue.