Traditional partners

Changing dimensions of India-Russia defence ties

During the 21st October 14th  annual summit in Moscow, President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke of the historical bonhomie in bilateral defence cooperation and talked about the significance of  this  in the privileged strategic partnership.  

India still depends a lot on Russia for critical technology support in many sensitive areas of weapons developments. The Russian diplomats and the leaders are right in pointing out that no other nation would have extended technology support to India in the field of nuclear submarines and cruise missiles. Russia has not only supplied the nuclear submarine to India but also provided critical support to India’s indigenous nuclear submarine Arihant.

Though Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft and the Multi Role Transport Aircraft projects as symbol of India Russia strategic partnerships, the two leaders after the summit meeting were silent on the issue of the costs that has become a major bone of contention.  

The two sides were also silent on the issue of the transfer of second Akula class nuclear Submarine from Russia, which has now become a subject of media speculation. According to top defence sources the lease agreement of second nuclear submarine is under discussion and is likely to be finalized during the November meeting of Intergovernmental commission of military and scientific cooperation to be held in Moscow during the visit of Indian defence minister A K Antony.

The visit should have happened before the Manmohan-Putin summit, but was postponed because of Antony’s indisposition.  It is natural that  the two sides are conducting hush-hush negotiations for the transfer of second Akula nuclear submarines on ten years lease  like the  first Akula submarine was inducted in Indian Navy early last year. The transfer of second Akula nuclear submarine may raise the India-Russia defence cooperation to newer heights but a decision on the same will not be known officially till the submarine is dispatched to Indian shores.

Advanced projects

However, emphasizing on the significance of India-Russia joint defence projects the Indian Prime Minister told the Russian journalists in Delhi that the FGFA and the MTA are the symbol of India-Russia strategic partnerships as they symbolize the high degree of trust and synergy in bilateral defence relations.  

These projects also symbolize the mutual beneficial partnerships, India and Russia enjoy in the defence sphere. Without revealing details Manmohan Singh said that he was happy to see that both projects are progressing well, and the preliminary design phase of the projects has been completed this year. Various complex and technical stages remain, including detailed design and development of prototypes, before series production can commence. We are keen that the entire process takes place as quickly as possible, so that these state-of-the-art aircraft can be inducted into the Indian Air Force.

In the background of India’s decision to diversify the defence acquisition Russia has off late been expressing its deep anguish. But Indian side also has complaints of arbitrary pricing, high cost and delay in supply of spares by the Russian companies and they try to take advantage of dependence on them for certain spares and systems.

This gives an excuse to India to find other sources of acquisition. Some of India’s recent big ticket acquisition orders have gone to USA and the Russians are not comfortable with these trends. They are worried that the growing and deepening defence relations between USA and India will result in loss or significant decline of share in Indian defence market for Russian companies.

The Russian Ambassador to India Alexander Kadakin complained recently, “We know what gimmicks are used to manipulate deals. Sometimes, terms of tenders are crafted specifically to get the required results.” Talking about assistance to India in sensitive technologies, Kadakin said, “Name a country that will lease you a nuclear submarine. Will the Americans, the British or the French lease you such a platform?” Kadakin asked, referring to the Akula-II nuclear-powered attack submarine leased to India by Russia last year. “This is the unique character of our privileged strategic partnership.”

Though the Russians may have lost the almost US$ 20 billion deal for the MMRCA, as Russian MiG-35 was the prime competitor among the six companies vying for the prestigious mother of all deals for the IAF, India has compensated them heavily by deciding to go ahead with the plan for joint development and production of the FGFA, which will be worth US$ 35 billion.  

The FGFA deal may not comprise the direct purchase of these ultra modern fighters from Russia, as it envisages the joint development and production, the Russian Sukhoi design bureau can hope to get jobs for its engineers and technicians for at least three decades to come. This should be rated as much better and more lucrative deal compared to the MMRCA.

Besides, FGFA the MTA deal for joint development and production of MTA in India will ensure that the Americans are not able to increase their footprint in India in the military transport sector. The MTA will be almost similar in size and capability to the C-130 Hercules and if the MTA plan goes ahead, the IAF would not need more than a dozen Hercules, six of which have already been acquired.

Undoubtedly the Russians have helped India in some of the most critical and sensitive defence technologies, which includes the assistance in developing India’s indigenous nuclear powered submarine Arihant, which is already undergoing sea trials. And some of the Russian top diplomats never fail to remind India that they have helped Indian defence in the sectors where no other country ever indicated India to help.

Deep cooperation

Hence after the summit meeting the joint statement described the defence relations as a crucial element of the strategic partnerships and both resolved to deepen cooperation in the key areas of rocket, missile and naval technologies. After the talks Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described India-Russia defence relations as unmatched by any other relations and assured Putin that Russia will remain a key defence partner for India as we move into a stage of joint design, development and production of key defence  platforms.

Just before the summit India and Russia had already signed the extension of the 15 year Brahmos supersonic missile project to another 15 years. The Brahmos project has given the India-Russia defence partnership a very new meaning in strategic sense, as it has given India a remarkable new technology to produce the supersonic cruise missile. Both the countries are now working on Mach 7 hypersonic missile which will give unmatched deterrent capabilities to India both in maritime domain and on land areas.

The joint statement issued after the Manmohan-Putin talks also spoke of the completion of the trials of the Vikramaditya aircraft carrier, the delivery of the sixth stealth frigate Trikhand and also of the license production of the Su-30 MKI fighter plane and T-90 tanks.

The minister incharge of the defence cooperation with India the Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin informed after the summit meeting that India and Russia will discuss plans for further cooperation in aviation technologies and shipbuilding.

These will be finalized when the Indian defence minister A K Antony visits Russia for the annual meeting of the Intergovernmental Commission for Military Technical Cooperation. Rogozin told the media that a there will be comprehensive package proposal in the sphere of helicopters and aircraft that should be of interest to India. He also said that both the countries will also discuss plans for building new surface warships and submarines.

Mr Rogozin also boasted of Russia’s exclusive help to India in the field of military space assets, which gives India military grade satellite signals to India, which is considered as very sensitive to Indian armed forces and no other defence partner to India will even discuss the possibilities of transmitting such military grade signals to Indian armed forces.

According to Rogozin Russia has offered to India to partner in the Glonass program and to set up two Glonass ground control stations in India. He also informed that both the countries have decided to set up a new working group in the Glonass program, which is Russia’s equivalent to the American Global Positioning System.

Though the common public may not be aware of this sensitive military grade signals being made available to India, this should be regarded  as extremely significant in India-Russian defence and strategic partnerships. The military grade signals has enabled Indian military to greatly improve the accuracy of its land, sea, air and space launched weapon systems. Thus India is the only country which has been given access to the Glonass satellites for military purposes.