iRead, iLearn, iWrite. Hence, iBlog.

For Indian Military, Nuclear & Space matters, visit:

Sunday, December 11, 2011

India-Russia military co-operation

India, with its socialist form of democracy had always enjoyed a warm & cordial relationship with the erstwhile U.S.S.R. [its legitimate successor being present day Russia] since the early days of Indian democracy.

India-Russia Cooperation

Significant military co-operation between India & the Soviet Union, however, only began post India's debacle against China in 1962, following which it undertook a significantly large modernization & expansion program of its Armed Forces. Looking for suitable supplier of military hardware to arm its expanded Armed Forces, India approached many countries, among them the U.S.S.R. Thus, the PT-76 light tank became one of the first major Russian [Soviet] hardware to be inducted into the Indian Armed Forces. Since then, Russian military hardware has, for all practical purposes, become synonymous with the inventory of the Indian Armed Forces. Not surprisingly the Soviets/Russians are the largest supplier of defence equipment to India, by a huge margin over the second largest supplier. This statement of fact is unlikely to change for a long time to come. With time, this generally mutually beneficial relationship based, primarily around trade of defence equipment & other strategic systems has only grown stronger and deeper.

One of the high point of this relationship, influenced by military stratagem, came about in 1971 with the signing of the Treaty of Peace, Friendship & Cooperation between India & the former Soviet Union. Signing of this treaty took place prior to India embarking on the onerous task of liberating Bangladesh from the clutches of the genocidal  Pakistan Army. The treaty ensured India would have someone to back it up militarily, in case the other superpower, the U.S., came to the rescue of its subject, Pakistan.

As rightly predicted, the U.S. re-directed Task Force 74 of its 7th Fleet, lead by its Nuclear-powered Aircraft Carrier, the USS Enterprise, to set sail for the Bay of Bengal. The Soviets, whose Nuclear Submarines were prowling the water since earlier, monitoring the situation,  in response, directed two Task Groups from its Pacific Fleet, lead by Missile Cruisers into the region to confront this American juggernaut. Checkmate. However, it must be noted that the brave. "martial race" Pakistan army laid down its arms & surrendered to the Indian Army with minimal resistance, in overwhelming numbers, in face of the Indian onslaught, & Bangladesh was liberated, much before the 7th fleet could position itself to cause disruption.

Pakistan Army surrendering to India after losing the war in Bangladesh in 1971

Benefit of hindsight, however, can not take anything away from the immense advantage & reassurance afforded to India by the Soviet action, viz-a-viz the American. This treaty was then followed up with the Treaty of Friendship  and Cooperation  in 1993 & then in 2000, Declaration on Strategic Partnership was announced & the Delhi Declaration of 2002, when the then Russian President Vladimir Putin came visiting to India1.

India's acquisition of Russian/Soviet military hardware has been dictated by a combination of its own, organically evolved plans for defence preparedness & also diplomatic arm-twisting by the Soviets to get India in to placing orders for military hardware, even if it went contrarian to India's envisaged plans, often to ensure production runs in its factories. In fact, it has been said, half in jest, that India first buys a weapons system & then tailors its military doctrine to fit the use of that equipment. The fact that the Indian Air Force has had, in its fleet, the entire range of aircraft designed by the Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau, starting from the MiG-21 to the MiG-29 bears testimony to this conduct between the two nations during that period.

Also, owing to the convenient arrangement whereby a then foreign exchange-strapped India was able to acquire these military hardware by making the payment, at least part of it, in Indian Rupees & being extended comfortable credit lines, made U.S.S.R. a much favoured shopping destination for military hardware.

Also read: a modest proposal from the Soviets...duly rejected by Indian Babudom

In fact, comparatively low cost of Russian military hardware has been one the the major factors that has swung deals in its favor. A prime example of this was the decision of the Indian Air Force [IAF] to purchase the Sukhoi-30 MK [not yet MKI then] version over the French Mirage-2000-5, a variant of which [Mirage-2000H] India had already been operating since the 1980s.

Indian Air Force Sukhoi Su-30MKI

Thereafter, began the process of MKI-sing the aircraft, which involved integrating western & indigenous systems into a Russian airframe, to develop an aircraft that would cater to the Indian Air Force's specific requirement. Thus, the project, in essence, entailed amalgamating the most desired weapons technology from either Cold War blocs to develop an end-product that would fulfill the requirement of a Non-Aligned Nation. The aircraft, thus, perhaps inadvertently, symbolizes the essence of foreign policy pursued by India during the Cold War period, remnants of which linger on to this day in the corridors of power4.

The end result has been the creation of an aircraft, with performance & capabilities so potent & unique,  that Air Forces around the world have been eager to engage with/against & experience the aircraft's prowess first hand. Thus, an Indian Air Force contingent, especially flying in with their Su-30 MKIs, are a much sought participation in multi-national Air Exercises around the world. This can be gauged from the fact that the Indian Air force, has in the past few years, been engaging in Air exercise with the Air forces of countries spread over the entire spectrum of political setup, from the U.S.A, Japan, U.K, Singapore on one side to Oman2 on the other.

In fact, during the Red Flag exercises of 2008 held in USA, when the French learnt of the participation of the Flanker, they switched their own aircraft, bringing in their most advanced Dassault Rafale multi-role combat aircraft in place of the older Mirage-2000-series aircraft they had originally planned to fly into for participation. But of course, the reason for this switch in aircraft had had more to do with trying to gather ELINT about the Flankers using the Rafale. Nevertheless, a back-handed compliment, of sorts, for the joint efforts of India & Russia in developing this aircraft.

Interestingly, the Russian Air Force, itself has never engaged the IAF any Air Exercise [possible reason, stated below]

Watch: Integrating Western weapons & systems on Russian aircraft - IAF experience [Aero India 2011]

Dr. Dmitry Gorenburg had compiled a fairly comprehensive essay detailing the various joint development programs being undertaken between the two & sale of Russian military hardware to India. Worth a read. Jotting down some of the points made in the 3-part article that caught my attention.

Part 01 - Naval Co-operation

    • "Given the volume of contracts already signed, India is guaranteed to be the Russian defense industry’s biggest client for the next four years"
    • "Sales to India will account for 55 percent of all foreign defense orders from Russia."
    • "The Indian Navy retains an option to buy another three Talwar-class frigates in the future"

There has been persistent murmurs of India actually leasing 2 Akula-II class Nuclear powered Submarines from the Russians. Dr. Gorenburg throws some light on this matter.

    • "The Indian Navy has the option to lease a second partially built Akula-II class submarine. Hull 519 is currently located at the Amur shipyard at 60 percent completion. If India exercises the option to complete this ship, it will invest $1.15 billion in completing its construction."
    • "It has offered a version of its Admiral Gorshkov class frigate as part of the Indian Navy’s tender for a follow-on to the Shivalik class frigates, labeled Project 17A"


Part 02 - Aircraft and Ground Forces

    • "A contract for another 42 planes at a total cost of $4.3 billion was negotiated in 2010. These planes are to be delivered by 2018. Their high unit cost, compared to previous units, has sparked rumors that these planes would be provided to India’s Strategic Forces Command and would be designed to carry nuclear weapons"

This is somewhat strange. Does this imply that the Su-30MKI aircrafts inducted so far aren't equipped to carry Nuclear payloads. This suggestion runs contrary to earlier analysis.

    • "Mikhail Pogosyan, the head of Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), has stated that India might purchase an additional 200 Su-30s in the foreseeable future"

It gets stranger here. If it were to be considered correct, then Indian Air Forces squadron strength, taking into account existing squadrons of Su-30 MKI, planned T-50 PAK-FA FGFA, AMCA & LCA Tejas would take the squadron strength far above the projected 45 squadrons. Then, after you include the squadrons of UAV/UCAVs, transport aircraft, mid-air refuellers & Helicopters [both transport & attack] Mikhail Pogosyan's words begins sounding even more improbable, IMHO.


Part 03 - Joint Projects and Future prospects

    • "Air and submarine launched versions are currently under development, with a design complete for Russia’s Amur diesel submarine."
    • "The BrahMos is not currently used by the Russian military, though version II may be equipped on the next generation Russian destroyers (project 21956) that are currently being designed."
    • "It is available for export, with Chile, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia and Malaysia involved in negotiations for a potential purchase"
    • "HAL is to design the computer and navigation systems and most of the cockpit displays. It will also modify Sukhoi’s single-seat prototype into the twin-seat version."

The fate of the recently upgraded MiG-21 aircrafts [designated MiG-21 Bison]

    • "For example, half of India’s upgraded MiG-21s, which were modernized between 1996 and 2006, are already in disrepair and the backlog at Russian repair facilities has led the Indian air force to decide to cannibalize some of its existing aircraft rather than having all of them fixed"
    • "The reform of the Russian military has also caused some problems, including the recent and sudden cancellation of the Indra-2011 military exercises that included both naval and ground forces components. It appears that these exercises were canceled because of organizational chaos in the Russian military."

Now for my favorite of nugget of information from the write-up :D

    • "the Russian air force has so far refused to conduct joint exercises with India, possibly because of fears that Indian pilots flying Russian-built aircraft would outperform their Russian counterparts."


Indian Army T-90 Main Battle Tank [MBT] BhishmaWhile on the face of it, this arrangement sounds like it is on firm footing, with virtually nothing that could jeopardize it, persistent points of confrontations, some minor, some not, have constantly undermined this age-old relationship3. Reports are available to show how, in order to ensure India finds it viable to make a buying decision, the critical Electro-Optical Defensive Aid Suite passive counter-measure system [Shtora-1], a standard system on-board the T-90, was excluded from the sales proposals. Thus once the tanks, without the Shtora-1, arrived they could then be purchased separately, thereby showing them as a different buy, whose price was not to be included in the price of the T-90s bought.

President of India, Mrs. Pratibha Devisingh Patilsitting atop an Indian Army T-90 TankThere have also been news of the failure of the Fire Control System [FCS] of the T-90 during operation in the harsh battlefield conditions of the Rajasthan deserts, prompting proposals to incorporate an Air-Conditioner in the T-90, not present in the original configuration of the Tank, thereby reducing the available brake horsepower available to the tank & further increasing its cost. This, and other points of consternation, including denial/delay in transferring technology to the Indian manufacturer & providing documentations in Russian that could be used only after India performed tedious & time-consuming translation have had detrimental effects to India's planned modernization programs, slow that they are, as it is.

A good source to read more about the story of the T-90 Main Battle Tank in the Indian Army would be Colonel [retd] Ajai Shukla's Blog.

This problem in transaction with the Russians are exacerbated by the fact that a great deal of India's own indigenous programs are reaching a stage of maturity. Once validated and cleared for production, it would enable India to lessen its dependence on import of military hardware, implying Russia would have less to sell India in the future, beginning the near future. In addition to that, is the fact that India has been actively acquiring weapon systems from other countries like the U.S.A, Israel, France etc. in greater numbers, compared to earlier. In fact, India had been the third largest importer of military hardware from the U.S.A in the past year.

Therefore, it is increasingly being felt in India, that as a result of these missed opportunities to sell its own systems, the Russians are resorting to prolonging India's dependence on it by delaying delivery schedules & extracting the maximum possible economic benefits from the existing contracts, even if it means reneging on the clauses of the contracts it has signed with India.

It has even been suggested that the death of an Indian Navy Officer, Commander Navaz Ahmed in a mysterious hit-and-run case was a result of vendetta of elements in the Russian Arms industry against the Naval Officer. As the officer looking over the commissioning of India's Talwar-Class Frigates, INS Talwar, he advised the Indian Navy not to accept the warship from the Russian shipbuilders in its current state, owing to its Surface to Air Missile [SAM], the Shtil-1 not performing as expected. The delay, caused as a result of rectifying the flaw, meant Russia, in turn, was obligated to pay a penalty amounting to $38.5 Million USD to India, as was specified in the agreement signed. Thus, trying to send across a message to India, it is alleged the Russians had the the Indian Navy officer killed5 [page 3] in India. While the veracity of the claim that the Russian had him killed could be contested, there is no dispute in stating the fact that nearly every major contract signed between the India and Russia has been a victim of delays & refusal to honor certain aspects of the contracts, often involving transfer of technology & know-how to India.

In the 90s there had been news reports [Indian Express, IIRC], which stated that the initial few Tunguska anti-aircraft systems that arrived in India from Russia had bullet holes in them. It was said these equipment were used, old systems operated by the Russian Army in Chechnya, which Russia then tried to palm off to India, in place of the brand new systems India had contracted.

Trying to put myself in the shoes of a dispassionate observer, I am inclined to say that India has always had it coming for it. The international weapons market is an exceedingly seller's market, for most parts [unless, the seller country in question is faced with dire economic crisis, in which case the table could turn. Ukraine & Russia itself come to mind & recently the U.K]. With the high level of technology  & research involved, only a few nations are in a position to allocate necessary resources to conduct research & development of these weapon systems. Thus, in absence of any viable alternative, one has to agree to the terms of the seller nation. After all, indigenous weapons development or not, one still has to protect ones country.

Hence, as a developer nation who has invested so much capital [both monetary & human] in creating what is, arguably, the bleeding edge of Technology, to have to give it away, even if not the latest technology, in return for money, ought to cause a great deal of resentment. Thus, any opportunity that allows it to hold back as long as one can would naturally be exploited to the fullest. There is a certain inevitability of the buyer nation experiencing such conduct, more so if one does not have its own robust, even if at the initial stages, indigenous program to hold as a leverage at the time of negotiations.

Therein lies the failings of India. With a historical precedence of dealing a step-motherly treatment to indigenous weapons program [the prime example being India's first indigenously developed aircraft HF-24 Marut], it has shown a preference for imported systems, to an extent that can't completely be explained by the argument of acquiring a superior product [in cases, they weren't], While the power wielders have refrained from/hesitated to acquire indigenous platforms citing them being untested6, they seem to have no such compunction when it came to imported systems. India has had no real leverage or alternative options to fall back on.

To be fair, though, performance of India's sole sanctioned weapons development behemoth, the Defence Research & Development Organization [DRDO] has left a lot to be desired. Yet the failings of DRDO, some beyond its controls, others not, can't justify the sense of apathy shown by the other Indian stake-holders towards indigenous program. Till the time there is a concerted effort to engage in course-correction on this issue & pursue indigenous development & manufacturing, with renewed vigor, including, but not restricted to, throwing the field open to the private sector, permitting substantial FDI, to make it viable for the foreign partner to bring into India their much-needed technology, along with a level playing field to encourage genuine, unbiased competition, it would not be possible to establish the required Military-Industrial Complex within the country that could cater to the needs to the country's Armed Forces. Unless that happens, this unequal relationship between nations in matter pertaining to military requirements is likely to continue afflicting us for much of the foreseeable future.



1 - A Delhi Declaration was also signed between then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi & Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. But it involved effecting the attainment of a grandiose, utopian Nuclear weapons-free Earth & did not necessarily pertain to a bilateral matter.

2 - The only two remaining Air Forces still operating the SEPECAT Jaguar ground attack fighter aircraft

3 - The Russian Ambassador to India, recently proclaimed,

"There is no power in the world that can deter our relationship"

"India is a superpower in the making....."

A bit corny & taking too many things for granted, if you'd ask me. Also, going by past Russian actions, it is also evident, they too do not give much thought to these proclamation made for public consumption when it comes to the issue of cold hard cash. Understandable.

4 - In fact, so deep was the relationship & so great was the desire of the Indian Air force to acquire the Flankers that even while the Price Negotiation Committee from India were wrestling with their Russian counterparts in 1996, Prime Minister Narasimha Rao directed that a payment of $350 Million USD be made to the Russians. This enabled then Russian President Boris Yeltsin to ensure that the Irkut factory, that would eventually manufacture the aircrafts, would not have to face the prospect of being unable to pay salaries to it employees until India actually confirmed its purchase of the aircraft, which would have been the case had India not released the money. The money was later adjusted in the payments India made once the deal was signed. - Source

5 - The article, which was originally published in the Hindustan Times, has since been removed from the site. Hence, the alternate source.

6 - How is an indigenous weapon system to attain maturity if the Armed Forces of the country does not induct it & use it in substantial numbers necessary to draw conclusions based on statistical data?

Photograph acknowledgement

Picture 1: Russia & India Report

Picture 2: Sainik Samachar

Picture 4: Wikipedia

Picture 5: Rediff