In launching the Joint Technology Assessment and Accelerated Commercialisation Program on 23 Jul 2020, India and Russia have put yet another pillar of strength in their special relationship which is now in its 73rd year and looking up.

This article takes a whirlwind view of the main highlights of the Indo-Russian relationship and examines what could be the possible take ways for India in the defence sector in the latest Program launched on 23 Jul 2020.

A Solid Relationship

Establishing diplomatic relations with India, even prior to its independence (13 Apr 1947), the Indo-USSR and now Indo-Russian relationship have stood the test of time.

Soviet Union had a cardinal role in setting the foundations of Indian industrial base. Eight of India’s 16 heavy industry in the period 1956-61 were built with Soviet help. Name a sector; Steel/metallurgy – Plants in Bhilai, Duragapur , Rourkela, Bokaro, Vizag. Mining – Durgapur, Thermal power – Neyveli (TN), Electro mechanical complex – Kobra (Chhattisgarh), Antibiotic pant – Rishikesh (UK), Pharmaceuticals – Hyderabad. R&D – IIT Mumbai, Space-Aryabhatta, Atomic energy – Kudankulam (TN)…The list can go on.

During the Indo-China war of 1962, USSR remained neutral throughout the border conflict. With an initial brief tilt towards China it followed by open support for India. . In 1971 the two countries signed the Treaty of Peace, Friendships and Co-operation that stands till date in its revised version. 

In 2000 dawned the era of strategic partnership between the two nations that saw close coordination the areas of international peace and security and resolution of global and regional issues. Bilateral cooperation expanded to areas of oil exploration, solar energy, gas and others.

Bilateral positive support between two nations saw an upsurge in international fora a like BRICS, SCO, G 20 etc. while Russia stood up for India be it the permanent seat in UNSC, or membership of NSG or joining APEC etc.

Defence has been a solid platform of mutual support and cooperation in the Indo-Russia relations. Many different types of weapon and support systems arrived in India from USSR from early 60s to late 80s on Inter Government agreements.

Later in 2000 two very important institutional dialogue mechanisms were set up. These were Indo-Russia Inter Governmental Commission or IRIGC for short. IRIGC had two platforms; IRIGC –TEC dealing with technological and cultural Co-operation and IRIGC-MTC dealing with military technical cooperation.

Pursued over many decades at the Inter-Governmental level and latter through the IRIGC route, the USSR/Russian footprint in our defence inventory has grown over time. Starting with MiGs to Sukhois, to Kiloclass submarines, Talwar class frigates, T series of tanks ( T 72, T 90), multi barrel rocket launchers and almost 76%of all inventory of ground based AD weapon systems ( schilka, Tunguska gun/missiles, Igla MANPAD, SAMs – Strela, OSA, Kvadrat, Pechora,) Smerch rockets…. the list can go on.

BrahMos has been a success story. More recent joint ventures include Kamov helicopters and the fifth generation fighter aircraft. The latter however could not be taken through. (details not covered) .

The Scope of The Current Program

The scope of the current program is such that it partly covers both the domains, namely, the military technical aspects, as well as, technologies in the civil domain.

The program aims to fund joint development in cutting edge technologies in a large number of areas such as information technology, renewable energy, artificial intelligence, environment, aerospace, alternative technologies, new materials, bio-technology, drones and robotics. This is a huge domain.

The program promises a funding of up to 15 Crores to small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) as well as, start-ups to work towards joint development of new technologies and its cross-country adaptation.

The funds will provided through a joint body made up of DST (Dept of science and technology, India) and FASIE (Foundation for Assistance to Small Innovative Enterprises, Russia). The plan is to fund up to 10 entities over a period of two years. The selection of recipients will be through a competitive process.

It is an opportunity for MSMEs and start-ups to grab and make the most of it.

What Technologies To Look For?

What could be the niche technologies where Russia is strong and where joint R&D can produce very useful results? Some of these are enumerated

Russia has developed a strong technological base in joint missions involving manned and unmanned platforms. Such combat operations go by the name of Manned and Unmanned Teaming or MUM-T.

In such operations, the human intelligence of a combat pilot, his decision making capability and tolerance for ambiguity is paired with the ‘dull, dirty and dangerous’ capabilities of the unmanned systems or UAS.

The unmanned systems bring with them their all-weather, all-terrain operability, long endurance and weapon carriage that can give a run for their money to manned platforms. The combination of the manned and unmanned therefore becomes very lethal and potent.

With Apache AH 64 helicopters for the Air force already in ( 17/22 delivered by Feb 2020 balance shortly) and the Army’s consignment due by 2023, it is time we start developing the capabilities of MUM-This area is a niche field of development which is worth taking up in joint R&D with the Russians.

Another area of joint R&D is artificial intelligence in its application in the swarm drone technology. Swarm in this context refers to a body of varying number of smart and intelligent UAS which can be gridded together to act like one integral whole. Such grids have a mind of their own built through algorithms based on artificial intelligence. Swarms can be programmed to carry out a mission such as surveillance, keep watch or precision strike in an autonomous fashion.

R&D in this niche field can lead to product ideas to produce small affordable swarm drones for the Services. This can complement the on-going effort by HAL in the area of swarm drones ( ALFA-S )

Another area where Russians have something positive to contribute and take us forward by a quantum is the area of anti-stealth technology. 

Stealth will be the name of the game when it comes to futuristic air threat. In fact most of the modern combat aircrafts have a strong stealth capability ( J 20, Rafael, F22 etc). Most of our current generation radars fall short when it comes to detection of stealthy targets.

An R&D in this field leading to some new product ideas capable of detecting stealth (for instance a compact radar solution in HF/VHF range or an alternative technology solution etc.) could lead to product idea in a time frame.

India is currently at the cusp of developing soft-kill weapons. Some laser-based weapons stand realised while the ones based on other soft kill techniques like charged particle beam or high power microwave etc. are on the drawing board. This could be another area of possible R&D.

Ground Based Air Defence Weapon Systems or GBADWS for short have always been the strong point with Russia. Some of their weapons have been world leaders over the years. For instance, the Schilka self-propelled system has been as ageless as the iconic MiG 21 platform. Then there is a whole spectrum of SAMs (Igla, strela, OSA AK, Kvadrat) . The S 400 air defence and anti-missile system has been grabbing the limelight in recent past.

In the field of GBADWS while whole weapon ideas are beyond the scope of R&D under the current program, some niche technologies could be looked into. While some of these have been listed in the IDS technology roadmap, more can be finalised in active consultation with the users.

On area that comes to mind is active seeker technology or electro-optical tracking system . R&D in these areas could be very rewarding. 

Others could include state-of-the-art communication systems, data processing systems, electronic warfare systems, smart and intelligent simulators based on artificial intelligence and making use of virtual or augmented reality etc.

The aim of putting down this symbolic list is to drive home the point how the current program is another pillar of strength in the already strong edifice of Indo-Russian relations. 

That India and Russia will make best use of the opportunity, is the hope of the author.