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#636, 22 November 2001
Admiral Gorshkov: The Russian aircraft-carrier for India
Alok Kumar Gupta
Research Scholar, JNU

The Indian Navy is set to acquire the Russian aircraft-carrier Admiral Gorshkov by the end of 2001. Russia offered to sell the modified Kiev (Type 1143.4) class aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov to India in 1994, but the deal has faced many problems.

The following issues need to be resolved:

·                     Russia has reportedly offered the ship for "free" but is charging US$750M (estimated at 12 billion rupees), to overhaul the ship. India has been trying to get Russia to reduce the price.


·                     Subsequent to the signing of the MoU, Russia apparently made the sale contingent on India also purchasing air elements of at least twenty MiG-29 aircrafts (which can counter the P3C Orion being used by the Pakistan Navy), valued at US$1.5B.


·                     Gorshkov has been inactive for a number of years and will require extensive overhaul before it can be made operational. India expressed its desire to have the work done in India while Russia wants it done at a Russian shipyard. 


·                     Gorshkov’s three sister ships were scrapped after the Yak-38 vertical take-off planes they were designed to carry failed to function as planned. Experts say the Russian Navy discussed re-equipping the Gorshkov with MiG-29s years ago, but abandoned the idea as impractical. 


The deal has been embroiled in controversy right from the beginning. Firstly, the former Chief of Naval Staff, Vishnu Bhagwat, was opposed to the idea of buying foreign-made battleships. Experts have warned that all is not well with the deal and say that a Russian offer to refurbish and re-equip the Gorshkov for Indian needs is little better than “pie in the sky”. 

According to Pavel Felgenhauer, a Russian defence analyst, “the Gorshkov is suitable only as a helicopter carrier. Neither the Gorshkov nor the MiG-29K fighters Russia is offering to equip it with, have ever been tested in a conventional aircraft carrier role.” However, according to the Indian version, the MiGs have already been tested on aircraft-carrier Admiral Kuznetsov for aerodynamics and in take-off and landing roles. According to Vitaly Shlyikov, former deputy Defence Minister of Russia, “the Gorshkov’s deck is too short and Russia never designed American-style catapults to enable short take-offs. The MiG-29 has never been used in this role. I’m not saying it can’t be done, it’s just not something anyone ever thought of before. The reason it’s being proposed now is probably that the MiG company is almost bankrupt and it desperately needs business.” 

India’s decision to accept Gorshkov is directly tied to its indecision regarding construction of a new aircraft-carrier until atleast 2010. With India’s sole remaining Hermes class aircraft-carrier Viraat due for decommissioning in 2005-2006, India was left with little choice but to get the Gorshkov if it wished to retain any aircraft-carrier capability. The Indian Navy requires a force of two aircraft-carriers to maintain a permanent carrier battle group presence on each coast. Gorshkov and Viraat will provide that two-carrier force level until Viraat decommissions. However, with Viraat undergoing a major overhaul that will last until 2001, and Gorshkov requiring a similarly long overhaul to conduct repairs and modernization, India will be without an aircraft-carrier until 2001.

The items of work that need to be addressed include:

·                     Reactivation of systems that have been laid up since the ship was last used in 1988.


·                     On 1 February 1994, Gorshkov sustained severe propulsion plant damage as a result of a steam line break and fire in one of its boiler rooms. It is not clear if the Russian Navy repaired the ship after the fire.


·                     The Sky Watch phased-array radar system is non-operational and will need to be replaced with another air-search radar.


·                     The existing missile armament on Gorshkov’s bow – twelve Chelomey P-500 Bazalt (SS-N-12/Sandbox) surface-to-surface missile (SSM) launchers and four Antey Kinzhal (SA-N-9/Gauntlet) surface-to-air missile (SAM) vertical launch system (VLS) launchers – will need to be removed to extend the flight deck and install a ski-jump.


According to Russian sources, the Gorshkov overhaul can be accomplished within three years of contract signature. The ship was laid down at Nikolayev South in December 1978 and commissioned in January 1987. 

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