SEVERODVINSK: The INS Vikramaditya will sail to India later this month with a 183-member Russian 'guarantee team' on board, that will remain in Karwar for a period of one year to smoothen the induction process and help the ship and crew settle into operating from home base.
"The guarantee specialists will be in India for one year. We are currently negotiating contract obligations for the post-guarantee period," Igor Ponomarev, vice president of Russia's United Shipbuilding Corporation said yesterday at a press conference here in Severodvinsk. Ponomarev is the balding man whose hand appears to be touching the green microphone.
"Russia is committed to being involved through the 40 year life of the Vikramaditya. We will provide design support as well," says Sergey Vlasov, DG Nevskoye Design Bureau, and personally one of the original designers of the Admiral Gorshkov. He's the man looking down with a smile.
Vlasov is a genial sort of guy: smiling and gracious. I had a chance to chat with him about the entire experience. While Sevmash refurbished the ship, it was Vlasov's Nevskoye Bureau that inputted on how the entire refurbishment process was to be carried out. Without Nevskoye (Russia's oldest design bureau for surface ships), Sevmash was dead in the water.
"This has been the most complicated and unusual project ever for us. Vikramaditya isn't a repaired ship. Everything except her hull is new," he told me, repeating the one thing everyone in the city tells you about the ship.
Asked about challenges working with the Indian government and navy, Vlasov smiles. "When we were preparing documentation, the Indians would approach us every six months with queries. We were not contractually bound to share a lot of data demanded, but we did so because of the open and friendly relations between us."
He also points out he hopes the Russian Navy will take cues on crew comfort on what the Indian Navy asked for in the Vikramaditya. "The Indian Navy asked for modifications that paid great attention to crew comfort. I hope the Russian Navy will learn some lessons from this!"
I asked Vlasov about the Vikramaditya's conspicuous lack of air defence weapons. He shook his head and said, "The Indian Navy hasn't gotten back to us with a decision on this. It is not standard for a ship of this size and class to have no air defence weapons. But such ships don't travel alone. We have been verbally asked about integration of Israeli weapons with the systems on the Vikramaditya, but we've received no formal request. I anticipate some problems in the integration of Israeli weapons, but nothing we cannot resolve." Vlasov indicates that the integration of Kashtan and AKA 630 missile/gun systems can be integrated quickly if the Indian Navy takes a call.
Ponomarev of USC was candid on the Vikramaditya programme: "We underestimated the initial scope of work. There were difficult and serious discussions, in one case, six rounds in a single year. We should have been more careful and specific in identifying the scope of work. But it happens all over the world. It's a normal occurance in shipbuilding."
Chief commissioning officer for Sevmash on the Vikramaditya, Igor Leonov, the guy who knows perhaps more about what the ship can do now than anyone else, fends off blame. "After 2004, a huge number of systems were asked for by the Indian side, which had to be accommodated. Many more modifications were demanded over what was contracted."
The USC is rendering assistance on the Project 71 indigenous aircraft carrier Vikrant, being built at the Cochin Shipyard. "We are providing some help, and are ready to render any further assistance or technical help necessary, but a decision will need to be taken by India. I doubt the US or EU would share as much technology as we have and would."
Ponomarev reveals that Russia has offered India three more improved Talwar-class frigates, an offer currently under study by the Indian Navy. A 10-year life extension of the Kilo-class submarines is also on the table by the Zvezdochka Shipyard here in Severodvinsk.
Also had a brief chat with Igor Vilnit, DG of Rubin Design Bureau, the prestigious design house that has created Russia's formidable submarines. A man of few words, he said, "The Amur 1650 is on offer to India (for the Project 75I competition). I hope India will choose it."