Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests
Recently, Indian PM and Russian President decided to “upgrade and intensify” defence ties through joint manufacture and co-production of key military hardware, during the annual summit. Soon after that, Defence Minister of India co-chaired 17th meeting of the India-Russia Inter Governmental Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation with Russian counterpart. A military cooperation roadmap during the meet wherein the roadmap is to become the basic document in planning bilateral contacts.
Russia has been one of India’s key major suppliers of arms and ammunition. However, it has been a long-standing grievance of armed forces that supply of critical spares and equipment from Russia takes a long time affecting maintenance of military systems procured from that country. Thus, it is critical that Russia adopts a liberal approach in sharing technology for components of major defence platforms to keep them in operational readiness as most of India’s weapon systems are of Russian-origin.
Nature of India- Russia relations
It is an old relation between these countries, from the time when USSR was in existence and soon after India’s independence. The relationship between both countries is called special and privileged strategic partnership.
It is a privileged relationship as it is distinctively bilateral.
Strategic relationship- from the late 60s when the relationship between both these countries is reviewed, today it is strategic in terms of military capability that India has been able to obtain from USSR/Russia. It also has a politico-diplomatic connotation in a strategic sense.
In UNSC, USSR would stand by India on some of issues which could have caused India a politic-diplomatically difficult situation in international arena.
The present meeting was looked to give a fillip to bilateral relationship particularly in defence sector, which seem to have gone into slight degree of dormancy.
Let us look at present military relation with Russia
India is taking four Grigorovich frigates from Russia. Grigorovic has association with India’s talwar class. The agreement is interesting because at the last BRICS meeting, Russia had a peculiar problem which is that the frigates were made from Ukraine engines. Due to political and military conflict with Ukraine, they had built ships but did not have engines. The way out was that India would buy these frigates and have a separate bilateral with Ukraine for engines.
Along with that there is another agreement in principle that there can be lease of another Akula class multi-purpose nuclear submarine which would enable India to acquire greater levels of training.
In addition, there is significant agreement for Kamov helicopter which envisages 60 helicopters delivered in fly away condition and rest 140 be made in India. This would be first time India would be entering into significant helicopter programme as far as Build In India is concerned. If there is a technology transfer, it would enable aerospace manufacturing and designing capability in India.
These are some kind of positive steps being taken.
Indian Airforce military requirements
The IAF is in a critical situation as far as gaps are concerned. There is a talk of inducting 126 aircrafts for more than 10 years and no tangible decision has been taken so far. The reason is there are expensive commitments that would have to be made for a very long time. Once the decision is taken and financial commitment is made, there cannot be change of course midway. Thus, government of India is taking its time.
The purchase of aircraft means lifecycle, spare parts, maintenance of 25-30 years. Thus India was hoping of getting into a kind of arrangement that would have all aspects covered in an appropriate manner.
The fact that India is not proceeding at expected pace with Russia shows that India is looking at other options which are Europe as possible long term partner, USA (one of the private entities of India as a part of strategic programme would be identified where USA is a partner to provide technology and knowhow so that India starts manufacturing modern fighter aircraft in India).
The 5th gen fighter aircraft is one of the key components of long-term air force planning. India needs 42 squadrons which is currently at 32. The single engine fighter jet talked about for 5 years now is yet to come up. The 5th gen aircraft seemed like a possible option however now it being on back burner so there is need to infuse traction into other sectors and platforms which are identified above.
These are serious inventory issues and India has to look at its airpower holistically.
Former USSR/Russian support
In the evolution of India’s composite military capability, missile is one area. Brahmos is good example where India has been able to benefit from close cooperation with former USSR and now Russia.
Other significant aspect is Arihant- India’s nuclear propelled SSB. The early stages of India’s programme as far as nuclear submarine design and building is concerned, at time cold war, first INS chakra was given on lease to India by USSR in 1988. No navy can move into nuclear propulsion in a hasty and unprepared manner. So it was one of the greatest contribution of Russia made in India’s strategic capability was to enable India’s entry into nuclear propulsion and sea. If India’s maritime aspirations are to be met, nuclear propulsions is kind of technology that needs to be acquired.
Around 67% of supplies come from Russia. For next 25 years, Russia is going to be dominating platform in India. And in near future, USA is going to become a significant supplier. But for now, both India and Russia feel that they need to take the level of cooperation in defence sector to a higher plane.
Both sides have benefited looking in long term. Soon after end of cold war, there was considerable disarray in Russia which removed India from focus. By that time, India was already looking for other options.
Russia’s ability to meet India’s expectations was below the median. This is in relation to timelines of supply of Gorshkov. The cost of platform and the timelines agreed upon were repeatedly extended. The Russian ability to provide spare maintenance and other kind of technical support that India was seeking was not as per expectations.
The decision now to “upgrade and intensify” bilateral defence cooperation through joint manufacture, co-production and co-development of key military hardware and equipment will be serving a crucial phase in relationship between both countries.
Connecting the dots:
India and Russia have been strategic partners even before cold war era. Critically analyse the defence relation between two countries and what can be possible way forward.