Why India’s Aircraft Carrier from Russia Was a Total Lemon

Why India’s Aircraft Carrier from Russia Was a Total Lemon

Kyle Mizokami

History, Asia

https://www.indiannavy.nic.in/sites/default/files/surface_ships/V_aditya_5_0.jpg

The Admiral Gorshkov was a terrible ship.

Key point: Buyers can’t be choosers when there are very few sellers to pick from.

Like a lot of countries, India wants the best weapons it can afford. But ideological and financial concerns mean there are a lot of things it won’t buy from the United States or Europe. That pretty much leaves, well, Russia.

India has been a big buyer of Russian weapons for 50 years. Those haven’t been easy years for New Delhi. India’s defense contracts with Russia have consistently suffered delays and cost overruns. And the resulting hardware doesn’t always work.

Of all India’s Russian procurement woes, none speak more to the dysfunctional relationship between the two countries than the saga of INS Vikramaditya. In the early 2000s, India went shopping for a new aircraft carrier. What followed was a military-industrial nightmare.

Wanted—one new(ish) carrier

In 1988, the Soviet Union commissioned the aircraft carrier Baku. She and her four sisters of the Kiev class represented a unique Soviet design. The front third resembled a heavy cruiser, with 12 giant SS-N-12 anti-ship missiles, up to 192 surface-to-air missiles and two 100-millimeter deck guns. The remaining two-thirds of the ship was basically an aircraft carrier, with an angled flight deck and a hangar.

Baku briefly served in the Soviet navy until the USSR dissolved in 1991. Russia inherited the vessel, renamed her Admiral Gorshkov and kept her on the rolls of the new Russian navy until 1996. After a boiler room explosion, likely due to a lack of maintenance, Admiral Gorshkov went into mothballs.

In the early 2000s, India faced a dilemma. The Indian navy’s only carrier INS Viraat was set to retire in 2007. Carriers help India assert influence over the Indian Ocean—not to mention, they’re status symbols. New Delhi needed to replace Viraat, and fast.

India’s options were limited. The only countries building carriers at the time—the United States, France and Italy—were building ships too big for India’s checkbook. In 2004, India and Russia struck a deal in which India would receive Admiral Gorshkov. The ship herself would be free, but India would pay $974 million dollars to Russia to upgrade her.

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