Another naval Oops!

Following yesterday’s news of Indonesian naval problems, it looks like India is having an even bigger one.

We’ve covered the former Soviet Kiev class ‘heavy aviation cruiser’ (a.k.a. aircraft carrier) Admiral Gorshkov in these pages before.  Briefly, she was built as the Baku during the final years of the now-defunct Soviet Union;  renamed after Azerbaijan (in which the city of Baku is found) became independent;  then sold to India and renamed INS Vikramaditya.  We examined the ship’s convoluted history in some depth in Weekend Warships #2.

After a long series of delays and problems during her conversion to a fully-fledged ski-jump aircraft carrier, Vikramaditya sailed earlier this year to commence pre-delivery testing and exercises.  Here’s a Russian-language video report on their progress, including footage of the new-model Mikoyan MiG-29K aircraft that will serve aboard her.

Unfortunately, the ship’s earlier boiler problems (which led to a boiler-room explosion in 1994 and a year-long spell under repair) have clearly not been resolved.  India’s Business Standard reports:

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 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 originally to be delivered to India in 2008, will come only in October 2013 “at the earliest”, said the 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.

. . .

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, 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.

There’s more at the link.

Looks like the Indian Navy’s in a bind.  They have only one operational carrier at present, the former HMS Hermes (now the INS Viraat).  She was laid down during World War II, although only completed several years later, and is long overdue for retirement.  Her replacement, the Indian-built INS Vikrant, is several years behind schedule, and not expected to enter service before 2017 at the earliest.  Vikramaditya was intended to enter service this year, to cover the gap between Viraat’s retirement and Vikrant’s arrival;  but that’s now off the table.

One wonders whether the billions of dollars India has invested in this floating white elephant will prove to be money down the drain . . . a question I’m sure many in India are asking right now.  India might do better to write off its investment rather than pour good money after bad, and instead lease or purchase a former US Navy carrier (six are currently in the reserve fleet:  John F. Kennedy, Forrestal, Ranger, Independence, Kitty Hawk and Constellation).  I’m sure the US government would view such a request favorably.  Even if it cost a billion or so to return one of them to serviceable status and install a ski-jump for use by the MiG-29K’s (which aren’t suitable for catapult launching), that would still be much less than half the cost of the former Soviet ship – the bills for which just keep on climbing!

Peter

6 comments

  1. I think I remember reading that INS Vikramaditya's boilers were supposed to be lined with asbestos, but in a bow to environmental concerns, the lining was changed to firebrick, which doesn't insulate much at all. Apparentlt that's been demonstrated.

    Leatherneck

  2. Sounds like the Russians are ripping their customers off.
    Geoff
    Who would put "Let the buyer beware," in Latin, but given the current state of education…sigh…

  3. Send that hulk to the breakers and keep the MIGs.

    They could have bought a Tarawa class assault carrier for that much money.

    Gerry

  4. I think the Indians would not buy an American carrier if they had the chance. They view *us* as the competition, and figure between them and Russia, they would counterbalance us.

  5. Not the Forest Fire. Any of the others, but that would just be asking for trouble after the issues they've had with this one.

    I do wonder what it would have cost to just hire Bath Ironworks to build them a new carrier from scratch, compared to what they've spent on the "free" Russian one so far.

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