India-Russia military cooperation

The 16th India-Russia summit in Moscow cleared the path for a few more joint projects in defence sector. This helped Russia make an emphatic comeback as India’s trusted and strategic partner.

The summit helped propel Russia in the top slot of India’s main defence partner. This was spearheaded by a Prime Minister who has in recent months shown much more proximity to the US and Western leaders.

During the visit, the two leaders, Modi and Putin, witnessed the inking of joint defence agreements in the area of helicopters and air defence missiles etc.

The joint statement issued after the summit recognized the fact,” both sides reaffirmed that military-technical cooperation remains one of the key elements of the special and privileged strategic partnership between the two countries.”

Prior to the departure of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Russia on 23rdDecember, the Defence Acquisition Council of the Defence Ministry headed by the Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had cleared the acquisition of the S-400 air defence missile system Triumph.

Though there was no direct announcement of the deal, which was supposed to be the biggest of deals in recent years worth six billion dollars for acquiring five such missile systems.

After the talks Prime Minister Modi said, “we have had excellent conversations over the past two days and very productive outcomes, it has deepened my conviction that this relationship truly meets the test of a special and privileged strategic partnership.”

Mutual benefit

The agreement signed between the Reliance Defence limited and AlmazAntey, Russia’s leading developer and maker of air defence missile systems gives the indication that the two sides will be jointly producing the missile in India under the Make In India program.

The two sides will be jointly working on the development and production of entire range of air defence missiles and radar systems, which are urgently required by Indian armed forces. It is well known that AlmazAntey has developed the S-400 Triumph system which Indian Defence Ministry has cleared for acquisition.

Later, a statement by the Anil Ambani group said, the two sides have identified the air defence missile systems, including the TOR1M missile program, radars, and automated control systems, as areas of partnership under the “Make in India” as well as the offset policies of the Indian Ministry of Defence.

The two sides also negotiated joint implementation of the modernisation, repair and deep overhauls of the AlmazAntey systems already in service with Indian forces. They also discussed R&D cooperation for developing new products in the defence sector, according to the statement.

Significantly, the statement released jointly after the Moscow talks said emphatically, “our proposed partnership will constitute an important milestone in the strategic relationship between the two countries.”

It is well known that Reliance Defence Limited is the wholly owned subsidiary of the Reliance infrastructure limited. Thus it is very clear that Russia has been asked to rope in Indian private sector for production of weapon systems on Indian soil.

But doubts arise about the capabilities of Indian private sector in defence manufacturing. Indian private sector has just taken baby steps in defence sector and it would be too much to ask them to even jointly produce a system like S-400 anti-missile Triumph.

According to defence experts, the Russian companies would simply be assembling their weapons systems in India under the guise of Make In India program.

Though there was significant omission of any reference to the joint Fifth Generation Fighter Project, the joint statement said, “the two sides took note of achievements in the field of joint design, development and production of high-technology military equipment.”

Both sides reaffirmed their intention to expand the scope of such cooperation and to avail of the opportunities provided by the Make in India initiative in the defence sector and directed the concerned agencies to finalize such projects between relevant entities and enterprises of the two countries at the earliest.

There are reports that the Modi government is not interested in pursuing the FGFA project because of inordinate delay which has already occurred and its projected year of delivery seem to be not before 2025.

Meanwhile, Russia is reported to have offered to supply Sukhoi-T-50 (PAK- FA) fighters to India under the joint fifth generation fighter program.

Russia has claimed that the PAK-FA will start serial production by 2017. But the IAF is reported to have shown no interest in the Russian proposal as it has dubbed the PAK-FA as very expensive and the IAF is not sure of its capabilities.

Significantly, another major defence manufacturing project has gone to the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited under the Make In India program. HAL has been awarded the Kamov-226T project execution with the assistance of Russian Helicopters.

Make in India

After his talks with President Vladimir Putin, Modi said, “the Inter-Governmental Agreement on manufacture of Kamov 226 helicopter in India is the first project for a major defence platform under the Make In India mission. It is rightly with our most important defence partner.”

The deal will include the manufacture of 200Kamov 226T helicopters in India. This light helicopter project deal has thrice been cancelled since 2006 due to allegations of scams. Indian Armed forces will now heave a sigh of relief as the four decades old Cheetah and Chetak helicopters have outlived their utility.

The Modi government was reported to have promoted the case of Indian private sector with Russian counterparts for manufacture of Kamov helicopters in India.

The private sector company was believed to be the Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence which had emerged as the front runner to partner the Russians.

But the manufacturer of Kamov-226T Rostec announced, the organisation for the manufacture of helicopters is provided by the creation of a Russian-Indian joint venture in India which includes the holdings of Rostec-JSC Rosoboronexport and Russian Helicopters and on the Indian side-the corporation HAL, CEO of Rostec State Corporation, Sergei Chemozov said in a statement released in Moscow.

Besides the Kamov -226 and the air defence missile deal, the two sides are also reported to have discussed the early possibility of the transfer of second Akula class nuclear submarine on ten year lease like the first one called INS Chakra in Indian Navy.

According to knowledgeable sources, when India was negotiating the acquisition of Gorshkov aircraft Carrier way back in early years of last decade, the Indian side had demanded the transfer of two Akula class submarine.

The first Akula joined Indian Navy in 2012 and speculations are rife over early transfer of the second Akula to Indian Navy in near future.

It is significant that the Russian nuclear submarine experts are already cooperating with India in the production of Arihant class of nuclear submarines for Indian Navy. The Arihant is likely to join Indian navy during the international Fleet Review to be held in early February.

The defence establishments of two countries are already in negotiation for acquiring the 48 Mi-17V5 medium lift helicopters worth US$ one billion, four stealth frigates are also under discussion to be manufactured in India under the Make in India program and the project will go to the Anil Ambani Group which will enter into an agreement with the Russian Untied Shipbuilding Company (USC).

It will be first time that a major warship will be constructed at a private sector Pipavav shipyard in India, owned by the Ambanis.

The estimated cost of these four stealth frigates will be around Rs 30,000 crores. There is a likelihood of a partnership agreement for refit and modernization of all Indian Navy surface ships of Russian origin at the Pipavav shipyard.