India-Russia Defence Cooperation


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    As the war in Ukraine stretches over four months with no end in sight, it has given rise to apprehensions on Russia’s ability to adhere to timely deliveries of spares and hardware. 

    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.
    • Status of other Deals:
      • The defence trade between India and Russia has crossed $15 billion since 2018, in the backdrop of some big deals including the $5.43 billion S-400 long range air defence systems
        • Other major contracts currently under implementation are construction of four additional stealth frigates in Russia and India, licensed production of the Mango Armor-piercing fin-stabilised discarding sabot (APFSDS) rounds for the T-90S tanks as also additional T-90S tanks, AK-203 assault rifles among others. 
        • The delivery of the second regiment of the S-400 is delayed by a few months as also the operationalisation of the agreement for the manufacture of 6.1 lakh AK-203 rifles at Korwa, Amethi in Uttar Pradesh.
      • India continues to remain Russia’s largest arms buyer with a major chunk of legacy hardware from Russia and the Soviet Union, the volume of imports has reduced in the last decade.

    Current Challenges: 

    • With the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, there are apprehensions on Russia’s ability to  give timely deliveries.
      • The Indian Army is dependent on certain weapon systems specially in the area of air defence, rockets, missiles and certain tanks from Russia and Ukraine
      • The supply chain of certain spares and ammunition has been impacted to some extent
    • Russia has been useful to India in some ways, particularly in enhancing Indian military power. 
      • But Moscow’s political compulsion to support China is a warning. India’s dependence on Moscow for weapons is a vulnerability that the Indian decision-makers need to take more seriously.
    • Russia is also helping China set up its missile early warning system, one of the most sensitive bits of technology for any nuclear power. 
    • The source of divergence between Indian and Russian interests lies in the continuing problems that Russia faces in its relations with the US
    • The Afghanistan crisis would impact both India and Russia and normal inter-state relations especially with respect to Central Asia, with additional threats emanating from drug trafficking, organised crime and the flow of refugees.

    Alternate choices for India 

    • 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.

    Image Courtesy: ET

    • 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.
    • France and Israel were the second and third largest arms suppliers to India in 2016–20.

    Way Ahead

    • 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.
    • In view of the current sanctions on Russia, the alternate choice for India is to become self-dependent.
    • Conscious efforts should be made to expand the weapons platform bases to not only other countries, but also domestically as well.
    • India is now looking at certain alternative mitigation measures and identifying alternate sources from friendly foreign countries.

    Source: TH