Russian officials say they are set to sign a new multi-billion dollar arms deal with India that includes the purchase of a refurbished Russian aircraft carrier, the planes to be based on the carrier, training for Indian naval personnel and the revamping of an Indian naval base.

The deal, worth more than $2 billion, includes the Russian carrier Admiral Gorshkov, which is currently being refurbished by Russian shipbuilders. Also, India will receive 50 Mikoyan MiG-29K naval fighter aircraft in the deal, along with a training package for Indian sailors and aircrews.

Also, Russia will modernize both the MiG fighters and a naval base in India, say reports.

The fighters, which cost about $30 million each, are “very sophisticated aircraft,” said Andrei Karasev, the deputy head of the MiG aircraft maker.

The Admiral Gorshkov was, at one time, in active service with the former Soviet navy, but had been idled before India agreed to the purchase.

Meanwhile, by May, India will have completed a $90 million refurbishment of its sole aircraft carrier, the 41-year-old INS Viraat, expected to be followed at some point by an indigenously built aircraft carrier of Indian design.

The news of the deal follows a report last week by WND that said Pakistani navy officials were planning to put nuclear weapons aboard Islamabad’s submarines.

Pakistani military officials said the move was in response to an earlier pledge by India to equip its own subs with nuclear-tipped missiles.

Russian military news agencies said the MiG-29K program had been in hiatus, placed there by cost-conscious Russian officials in 1992 because demand for the aircraft had fallen off domestically and abroad.

India, however, has helped reinvigorate the MiG-29 program, in part because of New Delhi’s preference for the naval version to outfit its aircraft carriers.

Mikoyan officials said the MiG-29K is also “perfectly sized” for a prospective India-built carrier that would be roughly half the size of the Russian carrier — just 24,000 tons. The Admiral Gorshkov is about 45,000 tons.

By comparison, the U.S. Navy’s Nimitz-class carriers average about 97,000 tons and are driven by two nuclear reactors and four shafts.

Also, Nimitz-class carriers can obtain speeds exceeding 30 knots, have a complement of 85 aircraft and a crew of about 5,700. They cost about $4.5 billion to build.

The U.S. Navy currently fields 12 carriers. A 13th — the USS Ronald Reagan — is under construction at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, and the Pentagon has just awarded a contract for the construction of a 14th carrier, to be the last of the Nimitz class.

Russian officials said the new MiG-29Ks sold to India would include advanced avionics and color multi-function cockpit displays designed for another variant, the MiG-29SMT. Also, the planes will be equipped with satellite navigation features and will fulfill anti-shipping and strike operation roles.

Models that can be refueled in-flight are also slated, but probably won’t be in service until about 2005, officials said.

With increasing regularity, Moscow — via arms deals and “strategic partnerships” — has been steadily increasing its influence in the Mideast and in Asia.

The increased involvement in both these regions has begun to cause alarm among some U.S. and Western military and intelligence officials, who believe the contacts have increased both as a means of heading off future Western and NATO influence and as a means of bringing in much-needed hard currency through resumption of weapons sales.

Related stories:

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Putin’s brave new Russia

Russian influence spreading in Asia, Mideast

Russia’s new advanced aircraft

Moscow’s new East-West link

Moscow selling aircraft carrier killers

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