Alexander Velovich/MOSCOW

RUSSIA HAS AGREED to sell to India the Kiev-class 37,000t aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov (formerly the Baku) in a move which may have wider implications for the strategic balance in the Asia-Pacific region.

India operates two ageing former UK aircraft carriers, the 28,700t Viraat and the 19,500t Vikrant, and is in the initial stages of design work on a class of 17,000t "air-defence ships".

The Indian navy is undertaking an upgrade of the 23 British Aerospace Sea Harrier FRS.51s which it operates from the carriers. It also intends eventually to deploy a navalised version of the indigenous Indian Light Combat Aircraft from around 2003.

The sale of the Gorshkov, the fourth (and heavily modified) member of the Kiev carrier class, is part of a wide-ranging long-term programme of military co-operation between Russia and India, which extends to 2003. Stanislav Filin, deputy director of Rosvooruzhenie (the Russian arms- export agency), indicates that the sale of the Gorshkov is included in this programme, but he refuses to give details of the timescale or the cost.

The ship is deployed with the Russian Northern Fleet, where it is operated as a helicopter carrier following the retirement of the Russian naval aviation's fleet of Yakovlev Yak-38 Forgers. It remains uncertain whether the ship would be supplied with the SS-N-12 Sandbox cruise missile, which forms the Gorshkov's main offensive armament.

Filin revealed the deal when announcing the completion of the sale of additional Mikoyan MiG-29 Fulcrum fighters to India, where the air force already operates 47 of the type. The aircraft will be delivered by the end of the middle of this year, with payments being covered by state credits opened by Russia in 1992. India was considering buying up to 30 MiG-29s, but it may have ordered as few as ten.

According to Indian sources, the technology transfer offered by Russia was not acceptable. India had been looking at funding completion of the MiG-29M project, although the latest batch of ten are thought to be MiG-29SEs.

Filin also states that the first two prototypes of upgraded Mikoyan MiG-21 Fishbed fighters for the Indian air force will be flown this year.

Source: Flight International