Aircraft carrier project delay irks Antony

Defence minister pulls up Navy, Cochin Shipyard for excuses

With the first indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC) project three years behind schedule, Defence Minister A K Antony on Tuesday cracked the whip on the Navy and Cochin Shipyard for the delay.

“We can’t go on hearing about excuses on delays (in the IAC). The delivery schedule has to be completed,” Antony said at a high-level review meeting on the IAC attended by Navy Chief Admiral D K Joshi and CSL chairman-cum-managing director Cmdr K Subramaniam.

Being constructed in a modular format by the Cochin Shipyard Ltd, assembling of the 874 building blocks of the 40,000 tonnes warship began in February 2009. Both Navy and CSL claimed to have completed the assembling and launching of the carrier in water by 2010.

More than three years down the line, the Navy hopes to launch the ship either in late 2013 or early 2014 and induction is likely not before 2017. The delay will lead to substantial cost escalation, for which the defence ministry is will approach the finance ministry and Cabinet Committee on Security shortly.

After the project design was approved in 2003, the government sanctioned Rs 3,261 crore for the project, out of which Rs 200 crore went to Cochin Shippyard to improve its infrastructure. The same shipyard will make a second carrier, which will be bigger than the first one. When completed, a fleet of MiG 29K fighters will fly from the IAC deck.

Reprimanding the CSL for the delay, Antony asked Subramaniam to come up with firm dates for project completion. “Everybody should be accountable for their roles on this national project,” he said asking the officials to fix responsibilities in case of slippage.
An empowered committee headed by the defence secretary has been set up to monitor the progress. Concurrent monitoring will be carried out by the shipping ministry as well.

The IAC project was delayed first due to a wrangling between CSL and Navy on its design, secondly due to non-availability of high-grade steel and lastly on the non-availability of heavy-duty gear boxes. An Indian company was originally selected to supply the gear box. But it could not manufacture a gear box of such complexities as per specifications. After dilly-dallying for sometime, finally the original equipment manufacturer, a German firm, was roped in for the job.

“One gear box has reached the CSL and the second one will arrive in a month’s time,” said a defence ministry official. As per the new schedule, IAC-1 may be launched in water by 2013-14 and sea-trials may commence by 2016.

China, meanwhile, has inducted its first aircraft carrier and planning to go ahead in a big way in the carrier programme.

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