Setting a good example
Moscow/New Delhi relationship set an exemplary case for other BRICS members as
their mutual ties and interdependence grows. At the summit, held 15-16 October
in Goa, heads of BRICS member states - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South
Africa - declared that they have a common vision of the many problems on the
global scale and scene. In addition to such declarations, the summit provided a
convenient platform for India to sign new deals with Russia on most advanced
First off, let's look into the most recent purchases New Delhi made. For the
first time in history, India has acquired long-range surface-to-air missiles
(SAM) in the form of Almaz-Antei S-400 Triumph. Until recently, Indian armed
forces operated far less sophisticated and shorter-range systems — the S-75 of
the 1950 origin (acquired in the 1960s as part of an initial weapons package
from Soviet Union) and the Kub of the 1960 origin. These were medium-range SAM
with two-digit firing ranges, whereas the S-400 can defeat aerial and ballistic
targets at ranges of several hundred kilometers.
The second deal is that on license production of 200 Kamov Ka-226T helicopters.
It is first-ever case in which India undertakes local assembly of Russian
helicopters. Before that, the country bought hundreds of Mil and Kamov
helicopters, starting with the Mi-4 and Ka-25 in the early 1960s, and through to
the most recent Mi-17V-5 with a glass cockpit. But it never made them at home.
At the same time, HAL has long been producing French designs — the Alouette
II/III and their derivatives - and, currently, the Dhruv, a home-grown design
based on BK-117 (a joint design from the Germans and the Japanese). Before the
Ka-226T, India produced a long list of Russian designs, including MiG fighters
and main battle tanks, but never helicopters.
Finally, New Delhi made decision on third consequent batch of the Project 11356
frigates, which are better known in India as the Talwar class by the name of the
first such vessel. Two previous batches were of three hulls each. The current
batch is of four vessels, with the first to be built in Russia, second in India
using imported parts and sections, and the remaining two in India with a high
degree of localization. This is also a new practice in the domain of surface
combatants for the navy.
Also in Goa, the Russians and the Indians agreed to form a joint committee at a
high level that would see to science and technology. According to Russian
vice-premier (deputy prime minister) Oleg Rogozin, this new body shall primarily
target space technologies such as rocketry and satellites. With all expediency,
joint programs in space was one of the points that Russian president addressed
in his remarks at the recent BRICS summit. Vladimir Putin said he considers
space programs as a very promising area to joint efforts. He specially mentioned
satellites purposely designed for distant probing and monitoring. Jointly, our
countries can built a complete ecological monitoring system that would
incorporate satellites and technologies they developed independently.
Other points that the Russian leader made in his remarks include the following.
Putin stressed that BRICS members should call for resolute actions against the
international terrorists and for politic/diplomatic solutions of international
conflicts. The policy that focuses on application of force towards sovereign
countries and other ways of harming their sovereignty shall be jointly marked as
"unacceptable". Closer economic partnership calling for joint projects and
encouraging investments across borders. Forming a joint energy agency that would
coordinate various programs including those on reusable/replenishing sources of
power that would be funded through the BRICS bank (with a capital base of U.S.
dollar 200 billion). Encouraging E-commerce territory, for which the member
states should work out a common policy that would ensure no barriers for the
spread of it within BRICS. Joining forces in fighting new kind of deceases, such
as Ebola. ‘This summit makes me happy because I saw for the first time that all
of the process participants show their interest in further development of ties
between them. There are new directions of our interaction appear,’ Vladimir
India and Russia are long standing strategic partners with many joint projects
in the area of defense and military-industrial cooperation. Will the two great
nations stay together in the changing geopolitical and economic reality? The
October BRICS summit in Goa gives a positive answer to this question. And this
is extremely important for Moscow taking account of the circumstances below.
The United States, European Union and their allies strengthen the regime of
economic sanctions against Russia introduced in 2014 upon the pretext of the
annexation of Crimea and hostilities in Donbass. This makes the Kremlin all the
more interested in cultivating friendly relationships with China, India and
other independent nations.
Weapons trade (or ‘military-technical cooperation’ in a more Russian fashion)
has been an essential part in the Kremlin’s foreign policy. For Moscow, it
remains an effective tool to bolster Russia’s military and economic might, and
maintain her prestige on the global stage. Arms trade is among very few
high-tech exports that supplement Russia’s primary source of hard currency
income through sales of oil, gas, timber, metals, coal and other mining
Russia holds a quarter of the global export market for defense products. By the
volume of arms trade she comes second after the United States. Deliveries of
Russian military hardware to foreign countries are worth ten billion U.S.
dollars annually. Moscow uses the ongoing wars on terror in Syria and Iraq to
demonstrate performance of her advanced fighting machines. This stimulates
interest in Russian weapons from the side of importing nations round the world.
As a result, the Russian industry has a healthy backlog of foreign orders,
estimated at US dollar 50 billion.
Foreign orders provide a worthy addition to the Russian defense budget on
procurement of new weapons. Together, they keep numerous enterprises of the
Russian military-industrial complex occupied, and thus help the Kremlin solve
social issues and ensure further progress of the military science and
In addition to earnings in the hard currency, the arms export has been an
important instrument of keeping client states tied up to Russia logistically,
technologically and militarily.
A big and demanding client
Together with Venezuela, Algeria, China and Vietnam, India is firmly in the top
five customers for Russian weapons. New Delhi first applied to Moscow for
weapons in 1963. The Soviet Union obliged by meeting most of the Indian requests
for jetfighters, airlifters, rotorcraft, armored vehicles, cannons and warships.
Estimates made in 2014 indicated that the grand total of the arms trade between
the two countries during the past fifty years totaled 57 billion U.S. dollars.
Since then the figure passed the mark of 60 and is steadily approaching 70.
India, however, is by no means an ‘easy’ client. Historically, the country has
been importing from the U.K., France and other European nations. At the turn of
the century, Israel started selling into India. More recently, New Delhi began
purchasing from the U.S. Noting the advent of these aggressive exporters into
the Indian market, the international media started reporting on a decline in
Russo-Indian trade. And yet, certain Russian sources insist that in dollar terms
the Russian arms export into India has been growing. Rosoboronexport state arms
trader said that in 2013 its shipments into India were worth more than U.S.
dollar 3.6 billion. Beyond doubt today is the fact that New Delhi has a wider
choice of suppliers and make them compete harder.
For Russia, the political, military and industrial importance of the Indian
market exceeds that of any other country. Certain Moscow-based exports believe
that in many ways, the Indo-Russian cooperation in the military-technical sphere
represents ‘ideal partnership of the two great nations.’ They point out at
harmony in economic ties between the Russian and Indian industries. At the same
time, they say, commercial interests of weapons makers do not always coincide
with the national defense considerations, — but this is not the case for India
The Kremlin is interested in seeing the rise of new centers of military and
economic power round the world provided they keep national identity and
sovereignty. That set them apart from the vassals and serves of the hegemonic
superpower. The rise of India does not concern Russian generals and strategic
planners, as they believe Russia and India are complimentary. Moscow observes
the progress and expansion of the Indian economy and military-industrial complex
with pleasure. At the same time, the rise of China does not always create the
same feelings within the Russian elite.
Some people in Moscow are concerned that sales of advanced defense equipment and
technology to Beijing are fraught with consequences for Russia’s national
defense. Today, however, such fears are being talked away by the speeches of
love and friendship from Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping who seem to be all set to
open a new page in the history of Sino-Russian relations.
Indian state officials sometimes call Vladimir Putin ‘an architect of strategic
partnership between India and Russia’. In our view, the president of the Russian
Federation spares no time and effort to keep Indo-Russian cooperation growing.
Meeting between Putin and his Indian counterparts take place on a regular basis.
Several times a year the Indian PM and the Russian president meet to discuss
various issues, including arms sales, license production and co-development.
Ritual hand-shaking and passionate speeches about mutual love and friendship
might seem boring, unless you take into account that they are made in the
background of the U.S.&E.U. sanctions regime. This new background gives them a
new flavor and a new meaning. They testify that after the regime change in April
2014, New Delhi remains committed to Russia and her leader. Once upon a time
India was under U.S sanctions, and so its leaders know what these are like.
Touching on the importance of arms trade and delivery of contractual
obligations, Putin said: ‘We all know that reliability in the sphere of
military-technical cooperation is one of the major components of interaction in
this very sensitive sphere. Should we fail one or twice, our reputation would
suffer seriously… and may also bring some negative economic consequences on us.
[That’s why] We must stick to our obligations and deliver them’.
New Delhi as a main customer
In a number of recent cases, the Indian defense ministry has de-facto assumed
and played the role of the main customer in relation to certain types of
advanced weapon systems developed by the Russian military industrial complex.
These include the Sukhoi Su-30MKI heavyweight multirole fighter, Mikoyan
MiG-29K/KUB ship-borne strike fighter, the T-90S main battle tank, the Project
11356 Talwar-class frigates, Project 877EKM (08773) diesel-electric submarines
armed with the Club-S missile system etc.
This role requires the customer to formulate requirements and specifications to
new weapon systems or its customized versions. If live tests on prototypes
confirm their compliance, the main customer gives Ok for series production,
accepts a worthwhile number of deliverable examples and pays for them. To
justify production of a modern aircraft, orders should measure in hundreds. The
Indian MoD has placed orders for 272 Su-30MKIs, a quantity more than just enough
to justify R&D and manufacturing costs.
In some instances, Indian orders for a specific product numerically exceeded
those fielded by the Russian defense ministry. This has been the case with the
T-90 main battle tank, and its customized Indian version known locally Bhishma.
A further evolution of the T-72, the T-90 (EIS 1992) provided base for more
advanced T-90S which was selected by the Indian army in 2001. It differs in
having a more powerful - through supercharging — diesel engine developing
In 2004-2011 timeframe, the Russian land forces procured 350 T-90A/AM tanks in
addition to 150 copies of the initial version. This compares to 657 T-90S MBTs
New Delhi procured directly from Russia’s UralVagonZavod (under two contracts,
for 310 and 347 respectively, signed in 2001 and 2007) and 536 made locally at
the Heavy Vehicles Factory in Avadi. Today, the Indian army operates twice as
many T-90s in the Russian inventory, and is likely to have four times as many at
the end of the license production run later this century.
The case of the T-90 is not the only one in which India procured more pieces of
equipment than Russia herself. The foreign customer bought more thrust-vectored
Sukhoi fighters and Kilo-class diesel electric submarines armed with tubed
launched cruise missiles. In the latter case, the Indian navy acquired ten
Project 877EKMs with the Club-S system against six Project 636.3s with further
developed Caliber-PL for the Russian navy. Another example of the kind is that
the Indian navy operates six Project 11356 frigates compared to just two (and
one being completed) in service with the Russian navy.
Major Indo-Russian defense projects tend to be of a long term nature. For
instance, the initial contract for the Su-30MKI was signed in 1996, and
shipments are still ongoing. The framework agreement calls for direct shipments
from the Irkutsk Aircraft Plant (IAZ) of the Irkut Corporation and setting up a
second assembly line at the HAL Bangalore complex. Since then the sides signed a
number of additional contracts detailing the framework agreement (and more are
The Su-30MKI features the powerful N-011M Bars multimode phased-array radar,
canards (foreplanes) and thrust-vectoring (none of which are present on less
advanced ‘Chinese’ version of the Classic Flanker – the Su-30MKK/MK2). The
aircraft provided base for the customized versions for the Algerian (Su-30MKA),
Malaysian (Su-30MKM) and Russian (Su-30SM) air force variants, all of which are
President of United Aircraft Corporation (which controls Irkut and IAZ) told the
media at Aero India 2015 that out of 272 Su-30MKIs contracted so far 222 were
assembled or being assembled at the HAL Bangalore complex. According to other
industrial sources, shipment of the kits under already placed contracts
terminates in 2017. When this author visited IAZ plant in June 2016, he was told
that the negotiations were ongoing so as to increase the grand total of Indian
Su-30MKIs to ‘over three hundred units’.
The Su-30MKI is also remarkable as it was the first large project on which a new
trend in Indian procurement practice was tried, that for ‘internationalized’
weapons systems. The aircraft used a proven Russian platform with a large number
of technology insertions, including those from French and Israeli firms. Such an
approach stimulated Russian OEMs to establish industrial partnerships with their
counterparts in other countries. It has brought a priceless experience for the
Russian industry, and helped it integrate into the world’s community.
In a number of instances, India ordered from Russia customized equipment with
parameters exceeding those for factory standard versions. Hence with, meeting
customer specification involved technological and technical risks. Let’s take
Talwar-class frigates. India placed order for three such vessels in November
Based on the proven Project 1135 warships, these (Project 11356) frigates
featured a completely revised weapons suite employing the Club-N missile system,
A-190E artillery piece, Puma fire control system, Shtil-1 SAM with extended
firing range etc. Since these were brand-new and untried, performance shortfalls
and electromagnetic interference occurred. These and other issues were
discovered at the stage of sea trials and required a year to be resolved. Even
though the Indian navy accepted these ships with a considerable delay to the
original schedule, it chose to order three more hulls since the Project 11356
proved very capable. Most of the frigates ordered in October 2016 will be
constructed at a local shipyard in accordance to the ‘Make in India’ program.
New Delhi was the launch customer for the MiG-29K/KUB deck fighter. India has
ordered 45 navalized MiGs compared to 24 Russia takes for the navy of her own.
Respectively, the Indian navy got hold of this advanced type ahead of the
Russian navy. Today, these MiGs form the backbone of the Indian navy’s Fleet Air
Arm. Sixteen airplanes in the initial batch had been provided by mid-2011 under
initial contract worth 752 million dollars. This year RAC MiG has to deliver the
final batch of six MiG-29K/KUB deck fighters to India under the follow-on order
for 29 such aircraft awarded in 2011.
At sea and in the air
Among weapons systems India procured early from the Soviet Union there was the
MiG-21F lightweight supersonic fighter. The type proved long-lasting.
Interacting with the local media, RAC MiG general director – general designer
Sergei Korotkov emphasized that the MiG-21 was inducted into the Indian air
force back in 1963. Since then, the type remains in the Indian service, with
twin seat operational trainers and MiG-21UPG ‘Bison’ multirole fighters
continuing to solder on.
The Bison represents a MiG-21bis with a number of improvements, including
replacing the original RP-22 unit with the Phazotron Kopyo multimode radar
enabling firing at two aerial targets simultaneously with Vympel RVV-AE radar
guided missiles. Upgrades were made in accordance to the 1996 contract worth
U.S. dollar 0.6 billion. The Bison is expected to remain in service throughout
this and next decades.
Starting with the MiG-21F, India has been (and remains) the largest oversees
customer for MiGs. It took delivery of 64 MiG-29 single seaters and eight
MiG-29UB operational trainers in 1986-1989, and added eight and two more
respectively in 1994 to compensate for attrition. According to RAC MiG general
director – general designer Sergei Korotkov (recently promoted to the post of
general designer at United Aircraft Corporation), ‘We have always supplied India
with the most advanced equipment. For instance, the MiG-29 went to India before
the type become available to Warsaw Treaty countries’.
RAC MiG has won contracts for modernization and refit of 63 surviving MiG-29s
into the MiG-29UPG variant. The deal is reportedly worth one billion U.S.
dollars. An initial batch of six aircraft underwent refit and modernization in
Russia and rejoined the Indian air force in 2011-2013. These serve as specimens
for similar work to be done locally on the remaining 57 airframes. Shipments of
kits for local upgrade into this version are ongoing.
A group of Indian technicians were trained in Moscow. Having passed exams, they
are now implementing their skills at the 11-th Aviation Repair Base (11ARB) of
the Indian defense ministry. ‘We are trying to expedite the process so as to
complete the work on the whole of the MiG-29 inventory in shortest time
possible’, Korotkov says. ‘We supply kits; the upgradation work is done by the
MiG-qualified local technicians under supervision of the RAC MiG team working at
the 11ARB’. RAC MiG is working with the local industrial partners to establish
MRO in India so as to create more jobs for the locals, reduce logistic chains
and cut maintenance costs.
In May 2007, the Indian navy published ‘Freedom to use the seas: India’s
maritime military strategy’. It postulates ‘the freedom to use the seas for our
national purposes, under all circumstances’. Building the blue-water navy
compliant to this strategy is a long endeavor. To be the primary power in the
Indian Ocean, the Indian armed forces need force-projection capability.
Arguably, this necessary capability is best provided by nuclear powered
submarines and aircraft carriers.
The very special and exclusive nature of Indo-Russian military-technical
cooperation can best be illustrated by the fact that the Indian navy is the only
one in the world that operates a foreign made nuclear powered submarine. The
Chakra (II), a fast-attack submarine of the Project 971I, exportable version of
the Akula (Bars) class, has been made available for ten years under operational
lease agreement. This case is second such in the world’s history: India leased a
Project 670 vessel for three years (1988-1990).
In November 2013, the Navy accepted its largest warship (and the largest ever
exported) – INS Vikramaditya aircraft carrier of project 11430. She was declared
completely combat ready in June 2014 when PM Narendra Modi inspected the ship
after ten Indian pilots had qualified in MiG-29K/KUB deck operations.
INS Vikramaditya represents reworked ex-Russian navy cruiser ‘Admiral Gorshkov’
of Project 1143.4. Refit and modernization centered on enabling the ship to
operate MiG-29K/KUB deck fighters. Today, local dockyards are constructing
aircraft carriers which effectively represent a further evolution of the
distinct Russian carrier concept.
Repair and making of submarines
Visiting Severodvinsk in November 2013 to take delivery of the Project 11430
carrier INS Vikramaditya, then Indian chief of naval staff admiral Devendra
Kumar Joshi promised local shipbuilders some work on repair and modernization of
Kilo-class submarines. Almost two years passed, and on October 14, 2015 the Ship
Repair Center ‘Zvezdochka’ won a contract for major overhaul and modernization
of INS Sindhukesari, a Project 877EKM boat.
She arrived in Severodvinsk aboard Rolldock Star on June 15, 2016. Two months
later, the submarine was inspected at the dock by the Indian ambassador, who
expressed satisfaction with the work being done on Sindhukesari and the desire
to have the overhaul completed as per contractual terms.
Typically, Russian-made submarines have a lifetime of 25 years with a major
overhaul in between. In case the navy wants to operate a boat for a longer time,
she shall be subjected to ‘second overhaul’. If the hull and mechanisms look Ok,
the design house and a repair plant it teams with offer lifetime extension of
Thus, India became the first foreign user of Kilo class submarines to have
committed to their lifetime extension. The Russian navy has already done that on
Kaluga (2013) and Vladikavkaz. Last year, the latter submarine of Project 877
rejoined the Northern Fleet following completion of the respective work at
Zvezdochka. On the Pacific coast, Amurski Shipbuilding Plant (ASZ) overhauled
Komsomolsk-upon-Amur which is in the process of rejoining the Pacific Fleet. The
Russian navy wants all of the remaining Kilos to undergo major overhaul and
lifetime extension though to 2025-2030.
Work on a second Indian boat shall commence in 2017. Further plans call for
three more submarines (Sindhudhvaj, Sindhuraj and Sindhuratna) to be subjected
to such a work. India wants to overhaul them locally with Russian assistance.
A circle of possible program participants was drawn last year. Public sector is
represented by Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL), Goa Shipyard Limited (GSL), Hindustan
Shipyard Limited (HSL) and Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers (GRSE). Of
those, Hindustan Shipyard seems the best candidate, as it overhauled one Project
877EKM boat in the 2006-2015 timeframe. Out of private sector companies, Pipavav
(recently acquired by the Reliance Group) and Larsen&Taubro were considered,
with the latter having best chances to qualify for the job.
The Indian navy operates nine Russian-built Project 877EKM submarines. They were
built in the 1986-2000 timeframe and later underwent modernization so as to
employ the Club-S missile complex using three types of tube-launched cruise
The Indian navy lost Sindurakshak to internal explosion in August 2013. Since
then New Delhi has been considering buying one or two Project 636s to compensate
for that loss. Doing so would not require any measures to do with training
facilities and weapons arsenals. Due to the type commonality, the navy can make
use of existing wares and infrastructure.
Russia was one of the foreign countries invited to present information on
diesel-electric submarines in frame of the international tender called Project
75I. This competition is about construction of six boats, of which one or two
would be provided by the foreign collaborator, and the remainder assembled
locally under license. Russia offered the Amur 1650, which is an export
derivative of the Project 677 Lada developed for the Russian navy.
As it appears now, the selection process has been indefinitely suspended at the
stage of Request for Proposals. Long expected, it has not been released yet. It
seems increasingly likely that New Delhi may instead go for a larger number of
Scorpene submarines to be ordered from DSNC of France and its local partner
Mazagon Dock Limited.
Under the contract signed in 2005 and estimated at 3.2 billion dollars, the two
companies are obliged to build six Scorpene boats including some with an
indigenous AIP module. This program has been beset by repeated delays. Finally,
INS Kalvari sailed for sea trials in 2016. This indeed long expected, cheerful
moment prompted defense minister Manohar Parrikar to suggest that the original
order might be extended.
Arms sellers in Moscow keep hope that sooner or later India would buy a number
of Amur 1650 submarines from Russia, most likely after the majority of the
teething problems with the Project 677 head vessel are resolved and the Russian
navy takes some improved submarines for itself.
These hopes are based on the long history of Indo-Russian relations in the
underwater domain. The Indian navy acquired its first submarines from the Soviet
Union. New Delhi first inquired about a possibility of purchasing Russian boats
in August 1964, during defense minister Y.B. Chavan’s visit to Moscow. That time
it took the Indians only twelve months to prepare all the necessary documents
and permissions, and proceed to signing a firm contract in September 1965. The
first submarine built under that deal, INS Kalvari, commissioned in December
1967. Fifty years past and… the acquisition process under Project 75I seems to
Four Project I641 boats were delivered in 1967-1969, and became first-ever
Soviet submarines of special exportable design made to the specification of a
foreign customer. Then, India placed a second order, for four boats of the
improved I641K design. These were delivered in 1973-1975. Last of those — INS
Vagli — was decommissioned in 2011, after 36 years in service.
Today, with all major dockyards of the public sector overloaded with orders, New
Delhi has been encouraging the private sector to get involved into the business
of constructing warships as well as doing repair and maintenance work on them.
It looks increasingly likely that the private sector may one day attempt to
India is a large country with potent, combat-experienced army. Continuing
confrontation with Pakistan and competition with China stimulate New Delhi to
develop armed forces and equip them with most advanced weaponry so as to achieve
and maintain a quality advantage over Pakistani and Chinese military. Continuing
economic growth fuels these ambitions.
Today, Indo-Russian cooperation in the defense area faces new challenges.
Russian OEMs fighting for Indian orders are placed in a highly competitive
environment. Firms from the U.K., France, Sweden and Germany were represented in
the Indian market with their products for decades. Israel joined them in the
Earlier this century, the United States entered the Indian market in a big way.
Sales of the North American products include the C-130J Hercules, C-17
Globemaster III, P-8I Poseidon, AH-64D Apache. Aiming to include India into a
global anti-Chinese circle, the U.S.A. is prepared to sell advanced weapons
systems and licenses for local assembly. North American defense companies expect
to conquer a considerable portion of the Indian market. In many instances, they
offer rather expensive, but the most technologically advanced equipment.
Another challenge for the Russian makers is to do with co-development programs
together with their Indian partners. Local firms want to develop engineering
capabilities of their own. Whereas the first such case – the PJ-10 BrahMos
supersonic missile from BrahMos Aerospace joint venture – is often pictured as
‘exemplary’, others – Fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA), Multirole
Transport Aircraft (MTA) etc. – proceed too slowly.
Indo-Russian partnership stands on a firm historic footprint of successful
programs. Russian weapons systems dominate inventories of the Indian armed
forces. But this leadership shall not be taken for granted. Aggressive exporters
from other countries are keen to unseat Russia in this and other lucrative
markets. As per a connection to BRICS, the exemplary case of lasting
Indo-Russian relations in the highly-sensitive area of military-technical
cooperation can serve a good example and specimen for other member states as
their mutual ties and interdependence grow.