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aircraft carrier delivery to India aircraft carrier delivery to India

NEW DELHI -- Russia delayed delivery of a trouble-plagued aircraft carrier for at least a year on Friday, a blow to India's efforts to quickly build up naval strength as increasingly assertive Asian rival China expands its maritime reach.

Originally built as the Admiral Gorshkov in the Soviet Union, the US$2.3 billion aircraft carrier is being reconditioned and was due to be ready this year, but problems with the ship's boilers have pushed the delivery date back several times.

“We believe the handover of the ship will take place in the fourth quarter of 2013,” Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said at a joint news conference with his Indian counterpart in New Delhi.

Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony said he had conveyed “serious concern” at the delays to Serdyukov.

The bilateral meeting precedes a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to New Delhi on Nov. 1.

The ship is to be renamed the Vikramaditya and the success of the order is seen as an important test of defense ties between Russia, the world's second-largest arms exporter, and its biggest customer.

India, a big buyer of Soviet Union weaponry, still relies on Russia for 60 percent of its arms purchases, but has diversified its suppliers in recent years. Israel is now the No. 2 seller, and countries like the United States and France also increasing their presence.

“I myself expressed serious concern about the delay,” Antony said, adding that the issue had been raised several times. He said he was putting pressure on both sides to finish work on the boilers as soon as possible, but said he had not discussed penalizing Russia so far.

India is closely watching the Chinese navy's newly assertive stance in the South China Sea and in a dispute with Japan over contested islands that have raised tensions in East Asia this year.

India bought its first, British-built aircraft carrier in the 1960s, which was decommissioned in 1997. Another ex-British carrier, the INS Viraat, is in operation but is reaching the end of its useful service.

Last month, at a time of high tensions with Japan over the islands, China put its first-ever aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, into service.

Itself a reconditioned vessel from Ukraine, the Liaoning will be used mostly for training and testing ahead of the possible launch of China's first domestically built carriers after 2015, analysts say.

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