The Defence Ministry will soon move the Union Cabinet for an additional Rs 2000 crore to meet the cost overrun for completing the first phase of Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC) being constructed at the Cochin Shipyard - on India's western seaboard.
The IAC, which is likely to be named INS Vikrant - after India's first and now decommissioned aircraft carrier - is delayed by at least five years and is expected to be with the Indian Navy only after 2018 as against the scheduled date of delivery of 2014, Defence Minister AK Antony had earlier told Parliament. For the Indian Navy the delay and the cost overrun of the indigenously made aircraft carrier is almost a double whammy as the Russian built Aircraft Carrier Admiral Gorshkov, renamed as INS Vikramaditya, is also delayed.
Sources told NDTV that the first phase of the construction of the aircraft carrier, which in 2003 was budget to cost about Rs 3200 crore, has escalated because of delays. In the first stage of the project the shipyard was expected to piece together some 18,000 tonnes of the hull, however, only 14,000 tonnes have been constructed. The ship is likely to be about 40,000 tonnes and is biggest ship that India has ever built. Till now only USA, Russia, the UK and France have produced such warships. China has re-fitted an old aircraft carrier purchased from Ukraine after the USSR broke up. The construction of the ship has been delayed due several reasons primarily because India was unable to procure special steel from Russia and also because gear boxes produced by a Gujarat-based firm in collaboration with the German partner had been found to be faulty.
Public sector giant, Steel Authority of India (SAIL) has come to rescue of the Indian Navy by producing the special quality steel. The first of the two remade gear boxes have reached Kochi a few days ago.
The total cost of the aircraft carrier alone - without its aircraft component - is likely to be between Rs 14000-to Rs 18000 crore.
Mr Antony who reviewed the progress of the construction of the ship today directed Defence Secretary Shashikant Sharma to constantly monitor the progress of the construction and formed empowered apex committee. Defence Minister Antony has asked Cochin ship yard to come with a "firm date of delivery". Sources said that Mr Antony has also told the shipyard that "we cannot go on hearing excuses. Everybody has to be accountable for the warship which is a national project and responsibilities in case of further slippages will have to be fixed."
The aircraft carrier is critical to India's ambition to emerge as a dominant player in the Indian Ocean region. Although India needs at least two, if not three, aircraft carriers, however, to ensure that it has at least one carrier available at all times, at present it is still pushing the 50 year old British made war horse INS Viraat. The warship has served the Navy for 25 years and should have been decommissioned in 2002. Naval experts say rarely do any Navy use ships which are 50 years old.
With the USA likely to reduce its presence in the Persian Gulf, the Indian Navy desperately needs major assets like Aircraft Carriers to maintain its presence and also shape the developments in the volatile gulf region. "It is because we're uncertain about when we are likely to get the next carrier we have been keeping INS Viraat in the best shape possible," a senior Naval officer told NDTV. INS Viraat which has gone through over a dozen major and minor refits is currently undergoing another refit is likely to be in the docks and out of action till March 2013.