India and Russia are intensifying cooperation in the military-technical realm, according to top Russian military officials

by Antony Bell

Speaking at a briefing held in Moscow on July 8, Deputy Director of Russia’s Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation (FSVTS) Vladimir Drozhzhov told Russian media that the volume of the Indian contracts for the acquisition of Russian-designed military hardware had reached an unprecedented $14 billion. According to him, those orders envisage both deliveries of ready-use hardware and licensed manufacturing of weapon systems under the ‘Make in India’ program.

It should be mentioned that the Russian-Indian military-technical cooperation (MTC) has gained traction in recent years. Typically, the exact financial volumes of defence exports and imports are classified: neither Russia nor India disclose the volume of defence trade between the two countries. However, some trends can be drawn on the base of information provided by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). It should be mentioned that SIPRI does not disclose the financial volume of defence export deals, publishing only relative numbers in TIVs (Trend Indicator Values).

According to the institute, Russia has become the largest exporter of defence hardware to India since 2014. In 2014, Moscow supplied large weapon systems worth TIV8,026, or almost four times more than Israel (TIV2,093) and 4.5 times more than the United States (TIV1,711). The deliveries reached their peaks in 2015 (TIV1,982) and 2016 (TIV1,892). Moreover, India has surpassed even the People`s Republic of China (PRC) as the main importer of Russian-designed weapons.

The S-400 air defence system

According to SIPRI, combat aircraft dominated India’s backlog of defence import orders in 2017-2018, holding 42.4% of acquisitions. Those weapon systems were followed by missile weaponry (20.0%) and various engines and powerplants (11.8%). Within the prescribed period, armored vehicles and naval platforms accounted for 9.1% and 6.7% of India’s arms imports, respectively. Those figures reflect the intention of the Indian Air Force (IAF) to boost its air support capabilities.

It is worth noting that the Russian-Indian MTC covers almost all types of conventional weapon systems, ranging from small arms to strategic air defence systems. Last October, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inked a contract for the acquisition of the S-400 Triumf ‘SA-21 Growler’ long-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems. The deal seems to be the largest in the history of the MTC between the two countries: five Triumf regimental kits worth approximately $5.43 billion will be delivered to New Delhi.

The IAF is planning to shore up its aircraft inventory through the medium of acquisition of additional Russian-designed multi-role combat aircraft. According to both Russian and Indian media outlets, the service mulls procuring some upgraded Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29UPG ‘Fulcrum-E’ fighter jets and invests in the maintenance and logistics support of its Sukhoi Su-30MKI ‘Flanker-H’ multi-role combat aircraft.

A Russian-Indian Joint Venture (JV) to manufacture Kamov Ka-226T ‘Hoodlum’ light utility helicopters is preparing to launch the local production of 140 such rotorcraft. The Ka-226T is supposed to become the main light utility helicopter of the Indian military.

The Indian Navy (IN) is set to receive four brand new Project 11356 Grigorovich-class frigates, of which two will be built in Russia by the Yantar Shipyard (a subsidiary of the United Shipbuilding Corporation) and two in India by Goa Shipyard Limited.

The Russian-Indian JV BrahMos Aerospace continues deliveries of ground- and sea-launched BRAHMOS cruise missiles to the Indian Army and the IN. The company largely invests in the development of an air-launched variant of the weapon: in May, the BRAHMOS-A (A for Air-launched) missile successfully destroyed a land target for the first time.

The Ka-226T light utility helicopter

The Indian Army also operates more than 1,000 of T-90S Bhishma Main Battle Tanks, a large part of which were produced locally under the ‘Make in India’ program. India is now producing under license the 3VBM42 Mango 125 mm armour-piercing fin-stabilised discarding sabot (APFSDS) rounds for those vehicles.

The Indian military is now seeking for a large number for cost-effective guided weapons to shore up the anti-tank capabilities of the ground troops. To this end, Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL) produces under license the Konkurs-M ‘AT-5b Spandrel’ anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) developed by Rostec’s holding High-Precision Weapons. Since 2008, some 25,000 Konkurs-Ms have been manufactured.

In early March, India’s Prime Minister Modi inaugurated a plant in Korwa (Uttar Pradesh) that had been fitted with a production line to manufacture the Kalashnikov AK-203 7.62 mm assault rifles. The plant is an integral part of JSC Indo-Russia Rifles Private Limited, of which India’s Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) owns 50.5% and Russia’s JSC Kalashnikov Group and JSC Rosoboronexport (both companies are Rostec’s subsidiaries) own 42% and 7.5%, respectively. The AK-203 has been considered the weapon that fully meets the harsh requirements of the Indian military.

All the above mentioned programs envisage intensive technology transfer as they feature very high level of localised manufacturing. They are being implemented under the ‘Make in India’ initiative that stipulates large involvement of the local industry in the manufacturing process.

One can describe Russia’s willingness to supply India with cutting-edge defence technologies and this description seems to be the case. The licensed building of naval ships, missiles, tanks, and small arms envisages a massive technology transfer. Moreover, Russia often offer India to jointly develop such sophisticated weapon systems as fixed-wing combat aircraft and diesel-electric submarines.

The US, which is pretending to dominate the Indian arms market, typically conducts only sales and after sales support of weapon systems: any attempt to get some technologies required for licensed manufacturing is winded down. Moreover, the economic sanctions, the imposition of which is becoming wider and more comprehensive, obviously demonstrate the weakness of defence imports that do not suggest localised manufacturing and technology transfer. In such context, only a country, which is ready to start co-production of defence hardware along with the selling of ready-use weapons, has key advantages on the arms market. The unwillingness to provide technologies impedes the implementation of the programs that are of vital importance for the Indian military.

Author is Moscow based independent Military Analyst. Views expressed are personal