Defence Deliveries Amidst Russia-Ukraine War


    In Context

    • India faces uncertainty over timely deliveries of defence supplies in the near future due tensions escalating between Russia and the West over the Ukraine crisis.


    • Russia is the second largest arms exporter in the world, following only the United States. 
      • In the five-year period between 2016 and 2020 America’s share in the global arms trade was 37 per cent, compared to 20 percent of Russia’s, as per the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which tracks the global arms trade and military expenditure.
    • India  has major defence cooperation with Russia and also with Ukraine.

    India -Russia Defence Ties

    • India was reliant, almost solely on the British, and other Western nations for its arms imports immediately after Independence but by the 1970s India was importing several weapons systems from the USSR, making it country’s largest defence importer for decades when it came to both basic and sophisticated weapons systems. 
    • Russia has provided some of the most sensitive and important weapons platforms that India has required from time to time including nuclear submarines, aircraft carriers, tanks, guns, fighter jets, and missiles.
    • For Russia, India is the largest importer, and for India, Russia the largest exporter when it comes to arms transfer. 
      • Between 2000 and 2020, Russia accounted for 66.5 per cent of India’s arms imports especially with respect to fighter jets, tanks, helicopters and submarines among others, while several major deals are in the pipeline.
    • Russia has also been one of main exporters of fighter aircraft to India, including hundreds of Sukhoi and MiG jets.
    • India’s missile programme has been developed with significant help from Russia or the Soviets earlier. 
      • The BrahMos missile, which India will begin exporting soon, has been developed jointly with Russia.
    • The Indian Army’s main battle tank force is composed predominantly of Russian T-72M1 (66 per cent) and T-90S (30 percent).
    • The Indian Air Force’s 667-plane fighter ground attack (FGA) fleet is 71 percent Russian-origin (39 per cent Su-30s, 22 per cent MiG-21s, 9 per cent MiG-29s). All six of the service’s air tankers are Russian-made Il-78s.
    • Important deals and agreements
      • India had signed a $5 billion deal with Russia in October 2018 to buy five units of the S-400 systems despite a warning from the then Trump administration that the contract may invite US sanctions going ahead.
        • However, India has asserted that its decisions are based on its national interests and for the country’s security. 
      • In December 2021, India and Russia signed a ?5000 crore deal for 6.1 lakh AK-203 assault rifles to be manufactured jointly in Uttar Pradesh. 
    • In addition, Russia is manufacturing two stealth frigates for the Navy. 
    • Russia has also pitched to make six AIP-powered conventional submarines for the Navy under the P75-I project, along with four other international bidders. 
      • The final call is yet to be taken.
    • India is also in talks with Russia to lease two nuclear-ballistic submarines, Chakra 3 and Chakra 4, the first of which is expected to be delivered by 2025. 

    Deal with Ukraine

    • India had signed a separate deal with Ukraine for eight Zorya-Mashproekt gas turbine engines for the frigates. 
      • The engines, gear boxes and specialist support will cost around $50 mn a ship.
    • India is also looking to receive the third Akula class nuclear attack submarine (SSN) sometime in 2025.
    • As for Ukraine, it is upgrading over 100 An-32 transport aircraft of the IAF under a deal finalised in 2009. While the upgrade of 45 An-32s in Ukraine was completed in 2015, the remaining aircraft were to be upgraded by the IAF Base Repair Depot, Kanpur. 
      • Ukraine officials had stated that all contractual obligations for the local upgrade would be fulfilled by 2020, though the current status was not immediately known.
    • At Aero India in February 2021, Ukraine signed four agreements worth $70 mn, which includes sale of new weapons as well as maintenance and the upgrade of the existing ones in service with the Indian military.

    Impact of Sanctions  on India’s defence procurement 

    • Due to the West’s sanctions, India’s military faces a grim prospect of interrupted and delayed Russian defence kit supply, which is critical for the military’s operational readiness, especially in the wake of a collective threat from China and Pakistan.   
    • The sanctions could seriously undermine India’s $375-million BrahMos cruise missile export order to the Philippines as BrahMos Aerospace is a joint venture between India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Russia’s NPO Mashinostroyenia.  
    • In the past, tensions between Russia and Ukraine had considerably delayed the modernisation of the AN-32 transport fleet of the Indian Air Force (IAF).
    • The current crisis could also complicate the CAATSA waiver for India

    Alternate choices for India 

    • In view of the current sanctions on Russia, the alternate choice for India is to become self-dependent.
      • Over the last few years there has been a conscious effort to expand the weapons platform bases to not only other countries, but also domestically as well.
    • SIPRI noted in its international arms transfer trends report last year that between 2011–15 and 2016–20 arms imports by India decreased by 33 per cent
    • Russia was the largest arms supplier to India in both 2011–15 and 2016–20.
      • However, Russia’s deliveries dropped by 53 per cent between the two periods and its share of total Indian arms imports fell from 70 to 49 per cent. 
      • In 2011–15 the USA was the second largest arms supplier to India, but in 2016–20 India’s arms imports from the USA were 46 per cent lower than in the previous five-year period, making the USA the fourth largest supplier to India in 2016–20.”
    • France and Israel were the second and third largest arms suppliers to India in 2016–20.
    • According to the report, the “overall drop in India’s arms imports between 2011–15 and 2016–20 seems to be mainly due to its complex and lengthy procurement processes, combined with its attempts to reduce its dependence on Russian arms by diversifying its network of arms suppliers
    • It is important for India to diversify its base, to not become too reliant on any single nation, as it can become a leverage that can be exploited by that nation.