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'Delay in carrier project won't hit Indo-Russian ties'

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SEVERODVINSK, NORTH RUSSIA (PTI): The late delivery of INS Vikramaditya aircraft carrier will not adversely impact Indo-Russian defence cooperation as such major projects are not very common, a top Russian shipbuilder has said.

"Such shipbuilding projects are undertaken once in a century. The Indian Navy is well aware that it was a very complicated project to transform a Soviet-built heavy aircraft carrying cruiser with VTOL jump jets into a regular aircraft carrier," United Shipbuilding Corporation Vice-President Igor Ponomaryov said.

"The delay will not have any adverse impact on our bilateral cooperation. We have scores of ongoing projects with the Indian Navy, including India's indigenous aircraft carrier project," he told reporters.

India and Russia inked a deal for the USD 2.3 billion aircraft carrier in 2004 but the delivery of the warship has been delayed by almost five years. The project became an irritant in bilateral ties and the two sides signed an additional agreement whereby India agreed to pay a higher price for refitting the carrier.

The Vikramaditya will be inducted into the Indian Navy by Defence Minister A K Antony here on Saturday.

Commenting on the whopping cost escalation for the refit and modernisation of the carrier, formerly known as Admiral Gorshkov, from USD 1.5 billion to USD 2.3 billion, Ponomaryov said, "We have learnt a lesson about being more careful and meticulous in initial cost evaluation of such unique projects."

Citing an example, he said the Indian Navy's request to modify 18 compartments had resulted in 400 compartments being fully or partially reworked.

Ponomaryov noted that the Mig-29K fighters had landed and taken off for the first time from Vikramaditya's deck.

The chief designer of the project, Sergei Vlasov, now Director General of St Petersburg-based Nevskoe Design Bureau, said it was the most complicated project in his life.

"It would be wrong to say that it is an old ship. Only its hull is partially old, the rest inside the hull and on the deck is absolutely new, including its highly advanced electronic warfare suite and radars. We changed 2,500 km of cabling," Vlasov said.

He said his design bureau, which has 83 years of experience, is now completing a facility for training pilots for aircraft carriers in Goa and was also involved in India's indigenous aircraft carrier project.

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