An Enduring Partnership: Russian-Indian military cooperation (Part 2: aircraft and ground forces)

Here’s part 2 of the piece on military cooperation with India from last summer. Look for part 3 (on joint projects) next week, as well as an update on recent developments (which include the failure of the Mi-28 in the helicopter tender discussed below).


The vast majority of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters operated by the Indian air force were purchased from Russia. These include 121 Mig-21 Bison, 69 Mig-29 Fulcrum, and 157 Su-30MKI fighter aircraft, 145 Mig-27UPG ground attack aircraft, 105 An-32 medium transport aircraft and 24 Il-76 heavy transport aircraft. The air force also operates three Il-76 aircraft equipped with Israeli EL/M-2075 Phalcon AWACS systems and 6 Il-78MKI aircraft fitted with Israeli refueling systems. In addition, the air arm of the Indian navy operates 8 Tu-142M and 5 Il-38SD maritime patrol aircraft. The latter aircraft, three of which were originally purchased 30-40 years ago, were modernized over the last 10 years.

In 2008, the two countries signed a contract to upgrade existing Mig-29s, in service since the 1980s, to the Mig-29SMT standard, at a total cost of $964 million. The first four aircraft will be upgraded in Russia, while the other 58 will be overhauled in India with the assistance of Russian experts. During the overhaul, which will be completed by 2013, the planes will be fitted with advanced avionics, new multi-functional Zhuk-ME radars, a new weapon control system, new armaments, and revamped engines. As a result, the lifespan of the aircraft will be extended by 25-40 years.

The Indian navy has ordered a total of 45 MiG-29K carrier-based fighter aircraft, to be used on the Vikramaditya and the indigenously built Vikrant. An initial 16 planes were ordered in 2004 as part of the Admiral Gorshkov/Vikramaditya deal, with delivery initially scheduled for 2011-12. The first five planes were transferred to India in early June 2011. In January 2010, the Indian navy ordered an additional 29 planes for the Vikrant at a cost of $1.5 billion. Together with a future naval variant of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.’s (HAL) Tejas planes, the MiG-29s will thus form the core of India’s naval aviation for the foreseeable future.

India has been purchasing fighter jets from Sukhoi since the mid-1990s. An initial contract for 50 Su-30 jets was signed in 1996. Four years later, HAL signed a $4 billion contract with Sukhoi to assemble from kits 140 Su-30MKI fighter jets. Since then, it has signed two further contracts for an additional 58 aircraft, worth a total of $2.4 billion. Eighteen of these planes were received in 2007 and 2009 in trade for an equal number of older Su-30K and MK aircraft that had been in service since the late 1990s. The other 40 were received in 2008-10 and included 20 finished aircraft and 20 assembly kits. The planes received in the first phase of deliveries are to be modernized, with 40 planes to be upgraded with new radars, avionics, and BrahMos supersonic missiles. The project will begin in 2012 and will be carried out by HAL at a cost of $2.34 billion with assistance from Russian experts.

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. These rumors have not been confirmed to date. Thus, by the end of this decade, the Indian air force plans to have a total of 270 Su-30MKI fighters in service at a total cost of around $14 billion, making it the dominant aircraft in its fleet. Furthermore, 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.

Other potential future aircraft sales to India include naval reconnaissance planes, where the Russian Be-200 amphibious plane is a finalist along with the Canadian Bombardier Q-400 and the Swedish Saab-2000. The United Aircraft Corporation’s Il-78 is a finalist (together with the EADS A-330) in a tender for refueling planes for the Indian air force.

The Indian military is also one of the largest customers of the Russian Helicopters Corporation. The air force currently operates 260 Russian-made helicopters, including 4 Mi-26 heavy transport helicopters, 68 Mi-8 and 156 Mi-17 utility and transport helicopters, 5 Mi-25U training helicopters, and 7 Mi-25 and 20 Mi-35 helicopter gunships. The navy operates 5 Ka-25 multi-purpose helicopters, 18 Ka-28 ASW helicopters, and 9 Ka-31 airborne early warning helicopters. An additional 9 Ka-31s and 8 Ka-28s are under contract for future delivery.

India has been systemically replacing its aging Mi-8s and Mi-17s with upgraded Mi-17s. An initial contract for 80 armed Mi-17-V5s was signed in 2008, 59 Mi-17-1V transport helicopters were purchased in 2010, and a contract for another 80 Mi-17-V5s was signed in June 2011 at Le Bourget. The first four helicopters were delivered in September 2010, with further deliveries anticipated over the next five years. Russian Helicopters Corporation is also hoping to receive a contract to modernize 108 Mi-17s for the Indian army and 15 Ka-28s for the navy.

Russia has made the short list for all four helicopter tenders being conducted by India, which include the following:

1) A $2 billion tender for 197 small utility helicopters for the army, where the competition is between the Ka-226T Sergei and Eurocopter’s AS-550 Fennec;

2) a $600 million tender for 22 attack helicopters, with the Mi-28NE Night Hunter and the AH-64D Apache Longbow still in the running;

3) the Mi-26T2 is competing with the CH-47F Chinook in a $700 million tender for 15 heavy transport helicopters; and

4) a recently announced tender for 50 light multi-purpose naval helicopters.

Decisions on at least some of these tenders are likely to come later this year. If Russian Helicopters is chosen for at least one of these deals, it will increase its credibility for exports to other countries and potentially spur further foreign sales.

Ground Forces Equipment

Several years ago, the Indian army chose the Russian-made T-90 as its main battle tank. An initial party of 310 T-90S tanks had been purchased in 2001 and received by 2006. In 2007, it bought an additional 347 upgraded T-90Ms, which are being assembled in India under license. Another 1000 T-90M tanks will be built locally over the next ten years. The Indian army also operates almost 2000 older T-72 tanks and 1500-2000 Soviet-made BMP-1 and BMP-2 armored vehicles.

A significant percentage of the Indian army’s artillery and missile systems are also Soviet or Russian-made. The most significant items include the Tunguska and Shilka self-propelled anti-aircraft guns, Smerch and Grad multiple rocket launchers, as well as a range of tactical surface-to-air missile systems that includes the Strela, Osa, and Klub. The Indian Army also operates the S-200 and S-300 strategic SAM systems. However, India has no plans to make additional purchases for its ground forces from Russia, as it increasingly shifts to domestic military production.


An Enduring Partnership: Russian-Indian military cooperation (Part 1: naval cooperation)

Here is the second piece I wrote for DSI. This was written last summer, so I’m sure there have been some developments in the last 4-5 months that are not included here. I’ll try to write up an update at some point, but it may be a bit, as other projects keep getting in the way of writing new material for this blog. As with the previous DSI piece, this one will be split into 3 parts that will appear over the next two weeks.

Over the last decade, India has gradually emerged as the largest customer for Russian military exports. This trend is in part the result of the decline of Russian arms sales to China, as the latter country increasingly focuses on developing its domestic defense industry. But primarily it is the result of a significant expansion of Indian defense procurement over the last decade. 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. More significantly, many of these contracts are for joint ventures that will tie the two countries’ defense industries closer together.

Ships and submarines

Cooperation between the Indian and Russian Navies has a long history. India has operated Russian and Soviet built ships and submarines since the 1960s. About half of the Indian Navy’s major surface combatants, and about two-thirds of its submarines, were built in Russia or the Soviet Union.

In recent years, India has purchased six Russian-built improved Krivak-class frigates (designated Talwar class in India). This was the first instance of Russia exporting a ship that was superior to the domestic version of the same class. The first three of these, ordered in 1997 and delivered in 2003-04 at a total cost of one billion dollars, were armed with Shtil SAM systems and Club-N missiles. The second set of three was ordered in 2004 because of problems with domestic warship production in India. These are being delivered in the 2011-12 period at a cost of 1.56 billion dollars. These new frigates are each to be armed with eight jointly developed BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles, a 100-mm gun, a Shtil SAM system, two Kashtan air-defense gun/missile systems, two twin 533-mm torpedo launchers, and an ASW helicopter. The Indian navy retains an option to buy another three Talwar-class frigates in the future.

India also operates ten Kilo class submarines, purchased from the Soviet Union and Russia between 1986 and 2000. Four of the older submarines have been modernized at the Zvezdochka shipyard in Severdvinsk, which included a complete overhaul of its hull structures, improvements to control systems, sonar, electronic warfare systems, and an integrated weapon control system, as well as adding 3M-54 Klub (SS-N-27) anti-ship missiles to their armament.

Over the years, India has bought a number of major Russian weapons systems for domestically built Indian Navy ships. These purchases have included various types of anti-ship and surface-to-air missiles, torpedoes, ASW rocket launchers, and naval guns. Most significantly, the Shivalik class frigates and Kolkata class destroyers are armed almost entirely with Russian weapons such as the RBU-6000 rocket launchers, SET-65E torpedoes, 3M-54 Klub anti-ship missiles, and 9M317 (SA-N-12) surface-to-air missiles. Russian design bureaus assisted Indian designers in developing both of these ships.

The Severodvinsk shipyard is nearing completion on a long-delayed project to refurbish the former Soviet aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov, which was sold to India in 2004 and will be renamed the INS Vikramaditya. It remains the largest single piece of military equipment ever exported in the world. Under the terms of the original deal, India was to receive the ship for free in 2008, but would have paid $970 million for necessary upgrades and refurbishment of the ship, as well as an additional $752 million for the accompanying aircraft and weapons systems, which included 12 single-seat MiG-29K and 4 dual-seat MiG-29KUB aircraft, 6 Ka-31 reconnaissance and Ka-28 anti-submarine helicopters, as well as a Kashtan CIWS, 9M-311 SAMs, torpedo tubes, and artillery units for the ship.

Recurring delays and significant cost overruns brought the Indian side close to canceling the deal, though in March 2010 the two sides reached an agreement under which India agreed to pay an addition $1.5 billion for the retrofitting. According to the new contract, the carrier will be transferred to India in 2012. As of July 2010, all structural work has been completed and almost all large equipment has been installed, although cabling work is continuing. Since then, the Severdvinsk shipyard has stated that the project remains on schedule and the ship will be sent to India next year.

In August 2010, Russia officially transferred an Akula-II class SSN to India, which will lease it for a ten year period at a cost of $25 million per year. An Indian crew is currently in Russia being trained to operate the sub and it is expected to be commissioned into the Indian Navy in October 2011. The lease is the result of a 2004 deal through which India invested $650 million in completing construction on the submarine. As part of the deal, the submarine received new armaments, including the Club-S missile system. It was originally due to be transferred in 2008, but technical problems during the construction, followed by a deadly malfunction of the automatic fire extinguishing system during sea trials, delayed the transfer.

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.

Finally, Russian designers have been assisting the Indian Navy in designing its own domestically produced nuclear submarines, the Arihant class. It is likely that various components for these submarines were purchased from Russia, though open source information on details of such sales is not available.

Russia is competing to be a part of future Indian ship 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. The plan is to build the first ship of this class at a foreign shipyard, followed by six more to be built in India under license. Russia is also planning to submit the Amur submarine to compete in a new tender for six diesel submarines, to be built under license in India.


Remembering Vitaly Shlykov

Saturday evening, I heard the news that Vitaly Shlykov had passed away that morning. He should be a familiar name to most readers of this blog, but for those who are not familiar, I’ll just say that he was a leading figure in Russian military analysis and one of the key authors of the ideas behind the current reform of the Russian military. In the early 1990s, he chaired the State Duma’s committee on defense and was one of the founders of SVOP, the State Council on Foreign and Defense Policy. In the Soviet period, he worked for the GRU as a secret agent and served two years in prison in Switzerland in the mid-1980s as a result of his work.

His work in recent years has been dedicated to modernizing and reforming the Russian military by adopting some of the experience of foreign militaries. He has always called for cooperation between the Russian military and the armies of Western states, as well as greater cooperation between Russia and the West in general.

My personal interactions with Vitaly were minimal — I first met him at Valdai last spring. But both in conversations on that occasion, and in all his writings, he struck me as an eminently sensible and kind man. He will be greatly missed by all of us who work on the Russian military.

For those who can read Russian, here are some links to stories about him in the Russian press.

UPDATE: Here’s the Washington Post obituary.

Russian arms sales to South-east Asia are on the rise

Here’s an Oxford Analytica brief. Written back in August. I’ll be back from my travels next week and will hopefully have some new material at that point.


Continuing tensions over the South China Sea have led South-east Asian states to modernize their militaries. Russia has become one of the key suppliers of weaponry – especially combat aircraft – to these states. However, these are first and foremost commercial undertakings that do not represent any sort of commitment to assist any of these states in the event of a conflict over disputed maritime territory in the region.

What Next

Moscow will have to tread carefully: on the one hand, it has a clear commercial interest in expanding defense-industrial ties – and on the other, it is wary of provoking a rising China. The region itself is not a strategic priority, with Moscow focused more on enhancing its already strong relationship with India as a way of projecting influence across Asia. So far, Beijing has not publicly objected to the role of the Russian arms industry in South-east Asia, perceiving it as opportunistic rather than strategically driven. This assessment is probably accurate for now, but as Russia makes greater defense inroads in the region, arms sales to South-east Asia may become a point of contention in Sino-Russian relations.


Russian arms sales to South-east Asia are broadly in line with defense contracts with other overseas customers. The bulk of contracts are for aircraft (fixed wing and helicopters). Ships and missiles also have a share of the market, while tanks and other ground forces equipment are much less significant. Vietnam and Indonesia purchase a significant proportion of their total military hardware from Russia. Russian exports play a much smaller role in Burma, Malaysia, and Thailand, and Russian defense manufacturers have not sold any weapons to the Philippines, Singapore, Brunei or Taiwan.

Vietnam’s increasing importance

Vietnam has recently become one of the world-leading purchasers of Russian arms. It received 6% of all Russian arms deliveries in 2010 and concluded 12% of all publicly identified contracts.

Some of the largest contracts have involved the air force. In the last decade, Vietnam has purchased 24 Su-30MK2 fighter jets; taken together, the deals are worth an estimated 1.5 billion dollars:

  • The first four Su-30MK2s were received in 2004.
  • In 2009, Vietnam purchased eight more planes, the first two of which were delivered in 2010.
  • Another twelve were ordered in 2010; eight to ten of these planes are expected to be delivered by the year-end.
  • The 2010 deal also included weapons for the eight planes ordered in 2009. The planes will be armed with 150 R-73 (AA-11) short range anti-aircraft missiles (SRAAMs) and 20 Kh-31A1 (AS-17) anti-ship missiles.

The navy has also made significant purchases:

  • These first of two Gepard class frigates purchased under a 350 million dollar deal in 2006 was delivered in 2010, with the second expected this year. These were armed with SA-19 surface-to-air missiles (SAMs).
  • In 2009, Vietnam spent approximately 2 billion dollars on six Kilo class diesel submarines, to be delivered beginning in 2013.
  • It is also acquiring Tarantul V class corvettes, two of which were delivered in 2008. Another eight are being produced in Vietnam.
  • In 2010, Vietnam received the second of two Bastion-P coastal defense systems, armed with 40 advanced Yakhont (SS-N-26) anti-ship missiles, which were ordered in 2007 as part of a 300 million dollar deal.

Indonesia’s focus on Russian aircraft

Although the Indonesian military has traditionally imported most of its weapons from NATO states, in recent years it has increasingly turned to Russia. This has been especially notable in the air force and in army aviation. The first Indonesian purchase of Russian military equipment took place in 2001, when the army bought twelve BTR-80A infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs). Another 17 BMP-3F IFVs were purchased in a 40 million dollar deal in 2008, with delivery completed in 2010.

In 2002, the army bought six Mi-17V5 armed helicopters. Another six of these were purchased in 2005 and delivered in 2008. Army aviation also operates eight Mi-35P attack helicopters, purchased in several deals over the last decade. Four of these helicopters, purchased in 2008 for 54 million dollars, were delivered last year. These helicopters are armed with 9M114 (AT-6) Spiral anti-tank missiles and Igla-1 (SA-16) portable SAMs.

The air force has purchased two types of fighter jets – Su-27SKs and Su-30MKs – in three separate deals worth a total of 500-550 million dollars. Infamously, the bulk of the payment in the 2003 deal was made in palm oil, rather than currency.

In addition, the navy is considering buying two Kilo class diesel submarines, though a contract has yet to be signed; a South Korea competitor is still in the running in the final stages of a tender that was initially proposed in 2006, but repeatedly postponed due to lack of funding.

Burma’s shift towards Russia

When Burma began to modernize its military in the 1990s, it mostly purchased weapons and systems from China. This began to change in the last 10 years, as the air force began to look to Russia for both its fixed wing combat aircraft and helicopters. Since then, orders have included:

  • ten MiG-29B and 2 MiG-29UB (two-seater) fighter jets, received in 2001-02 as part of a 130 million dollar deal, and armed with R-27 (AA-10) air-to-air missiles and R-73 (AA-11) SRAAMs;
  • 20 MiG-29SMT fighter jets, ordered in 2009 as part of a 570 million dollar deal, to be delivered this year;
  • eight to ten Mi-35 attack helicopters, ordered in 2009 for 50 million dollars;
  • 50 Mi-24 attack helicopters and 12 Mi-2 armored transport helicopters, ordered in 2010; and
  • an unknown number of Pechora-2M SAM systems, ordered in 2009.

Malaysia’s limited purchases

Malaysia buys weapons from a wide range of suppliers. Its most significant Russian acquisitions have been aircraft, though some missile systems were also purchased in the past. It has acquired:

  • 18 MiG-29N fighter aircraft ordered in 1995 but modernized in 2002-03, of which 14 are still in service;
  • 18 Su30-MKM fighter aircraft, armed with a range of anti-air and anti-ship missiles, purchased in 2003 and received in 2007-09;
  • 100 9M131 (AT-13) anti-tank missiles purchased in 2001; and
  • 382 Igla-1 (SA-16) portable SAM systems, including 40 launchers, purchased in 2002.

Emerging cooperation with Thailand

Most Thai military equipment comes from the United States, China, or West European suppliers. However, the army has recently begun to engage with Russian and Ukrainian manufacturers. In 2008, Thailand signed contracts to purchase Mi-17V5 helicopters and 36 Igla-S (SA-24) portable air defense systems. The Iglas were delivered in 2010, and at least one of the helicopters was delivered in February 2011. In terms of IFVs, Thailand has been more reliant on Ukraine than Russia.


  • Despite Vietnam’s recent bravado over its ability to deploy a submarine fleet imminently, delivery from Russia is unlikely until 2013.
  • Sales to South-east Asia lend credence to Moscow’s strategy of moving away from overdependence on one or two major arms customers.
  • As Russia source ever more of its military equipment from abroad, it will depend on foreign buyers to keep certain defense sectors afloat.

Russian Politics and Law, November 2011 Table of Contents

Volume 49 Number 6 / November-December 2011 of Russian Politics and Law is now available on the M.E. Sharpe web site at

This issue contains:

New Directions in Russian Foreign Policy: Editor’s Introduction p.3
Dmitry Gorenburg
Modernizing Russian Foreign Policy p.8
Dmitry Trenin
Russia and the New Eastern Europe p.38
Dmitry Trenin
Russia-China: Time for a Course Correction p.54
Evgenii Verlin and Vladislav Inozemtsev
Russia-China: “Reloading” the Relationship p.74
Vasilii Mikheev

New Directions in Russian Foreign Policy: Editor’s Introduction

For many American commentators, analyzing Russian foreign policy can be a fairly contentious topic. Some see Russia as a continuation of the Soviet Union and are therefore concerned about the future possibility of a revived Russia once again posing a threat to the United States and the rest of the democratic world. Others believe that while Russia is certainly not a Western democracy, it does not bear any aggressive intent toward the West. In this issue, we look at what Russian experts see as the goals of Russian foreign policy.

The issue begins with two lectures by Dmitry Trenin. The first, “Modernizing Russian Foreign Policy,” examines the current goals of Russian foreign policy and makes some recommendations for its future trajectory. Trenin argues that for the last decade, Russian foreign policy has been aimed primarily at maintaining the country’s status in the world. He argues that since the start of Vladimir Putin’s second term as president in 2004, Russia has been focused on cementing its status as an independent power in a multipolar world. Its primary emphasis has been on maintaining its preeminent status in the former Soviet republics. A second goal has been to ensure that it has a say on all the critical issues facing the international system. And the final goal is for the Russian economy to realize a profit from the country’s foreign policy.

Trenin criticizes these goals as inadequate for the twenty-first century. He argues that to be a superpower it is no longer sufficient to be able to destroy the rest of the world or even to be able to export rare natural resources at a premium. The greatness of a state in the modern world, according to the author, lies not in what it can offer the world but in how attractive it is to others. He finds that Russia has little to brag about in this department.

To change this dynamic, Trenin proposes that Russia focus on wide-scale international cooperation in all possible areas. Economic cooperation would be greatly enhanced if Russia were to join the World Trade Organization. He then takes on the question of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) expansion, arguing that although he is not a proponent of further expansion, he finds it difficult to see how the admission of states such as Ukraine or Georgia to NATO could be seen as a threat to Russia. The old Soviet mentality of maintaining a buffer zone around its border does not correspond to present realities, in which Russia and NATO are developing a partnership in dealing with the real security challenges. In this environment, the best strategy for Russian foreign policy is to let these states make their own foreign policy decisions while using its cultural influence to ensure that its neighbors are positively disposed toward Russia.

Having addressed the general outlines of Russian foreign policy in the first lecture, in “Russia and the New Eastern Europe,” Trenin focuses more specifically on Russia’s relations with Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova. His first point is quite simple: these three countries now constitute a distinct and durable geopolitical reality that he calls the New Eastern Europe. Given the history of Russia’s interactions with this region, it is not at all surprising that these states’ political elites have devoted a great deal of effort to ensuring that their countries develop distinct political identities that are separate from Russia. Trenin’s second point is that the existence of this region is not a transitory phenomenon. Russian efforts to integrate the states that formerly constituted the Soviet Union are unlikely to succeed, in part because of opposition within these states but in part because of Russia’s unwillingness to subsidize these states in the way that the Soviet Union used to subsidize its satellites. At the same time, this region is unlikely to be incorporated into the European Union (EU) either, both because the EU is suffering from enlargement fatigue and because the states that make up the New Eastern Europe are not yet politically or economically ready for such incorporation.

Given this geopolitical reality, Russian foreign policy will have to address its relationship with this region. When Russians travel to this region, they do not feel like they are in a foreign state. This affects their country’s policies toward the region, including the use of terms such as the “near abroad” that attempt to portray the region as less foreign than the rest of the world. But because of this feeling of cultural similarity, Russian policy toward the region is governed by emotion rather than pragmatic considerations. This is the context through which Trenin views such potentially counterproductive policies as Russia’s reaction to the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and its visceral opposition to NATO enlargement. At the same time, there have been gradual improvements in Russian attitudes, as shown in the country’s relative equanimity in advance of the 2010 Ukrainian presidential elections and its efforts to restore cooperation with NATO soon after the 2008 Georgian war. A shift from a foreign policy focused on status maintenance to one aimed at domestic modernization would further help Russia develop normal relations with the New Eastern Europe, which in turn would only enhance Russian security on its western borders.

The last two articles in this issue focus on Russia’s relations with China. In “Russia–China: Time for a Course Correction,” Evgenii Verlin and Vladislav Inozemtsev focus on examining alternative scenarios for the evolution of this relationship, with an emphasis on the potential threats posed to Russia by China’s growing economic and demographic power. They argue that given its economic and political development, China is already a new superpower, although it is not yet sure about its place in the international system. The authors see the likeliest configuration of future power centers as involving a big three of the United States, the European Union, and China, with other regional powers such as Russia and Brazil allied with one of these centers on relatively unequal terms. They believe that Russia should respond to China’s emergence as a superpower by focusing on establishing a balanced relationship with China. Russians must end their long history of looking down on the Chinese, as this attitude has long provoked Chinese hostility. Although such views may have been acceptable when the Soviet Union was clearly more powerful than China, they are no longer permissible in the current geopolitical environment. The authors are concerned that the Russian–Chinese relationship is currently built on situational factors that are unlikely to last. This presents a danger to Russia, which faces a choice between becoming “an industrial appendage of Europe for a time or a raw-materials appendage of China forever.”

Vasilii Mikheev focuses on the role the Russian–Chinese relationship plays in overall Russian foreign policy. In “Russia–China: ‘Reloading’ the Relationship,” he argues that using the Chinese card in Russian relations with the United States is a potentially dangerous course that is unlikely to yield many benefits for Russia. Whereas the previous article focuses on the dangers that China’s growth presents for Russia, this article focuses on the potential opportunities. Mikheev argues that Russia should seek to develop a closer military and political partnership with China, including interactions on areas of potential common concern such as political stability in Central Asia and nuclear security. A dialogue on security in the Asia–Pacific region and the situation in North Korea are also necessary. In focusing on the Russia–China–United States triangle, Mikheev hopes that Russia will be able to avoid focusing on one or another of these states. To this end, he advocates for a trilateral dialogue that enhances international security. The strategic goal for Russia is to ensure that its relationship with China is closer than China’s relationship with the United States.

Although these four articles by no means offer a complete assessment of Russian foreign policy, they do show some of the key issues Russia is facing as it begins its third decade of independent statehood. After an initial effort to try to fit into the West and a subsequent period of attempting to regain the international status held by the Soviet Union, Russia is at a point where it is beginning to come to terms with its status as a regional power that still maintains a significant amount of freedom of action in its own neighborhood but needs to develop alliances with other powers to influence events on a global stage. I imagine that this process will continue over the next decade as Russia gradually cements its place in the international system.


Russia-NATO military cooperation (Part 3: defense industrial cooperation and future prospects)

Defense Industrial Cooperation (continued)

Italy: The Russian military has recently completed several deals with Italy. The most significant of these is the establishment of a joint venture to built IVECO’s M65 Lynx light multirole vehicles (LMVs). The deal, estimated to be worth around one billion euros, will allow Russia to assemble these Italian vehicles at the Kamaz plant in Tatarstan. The license will allow the manufacture of 1775 of these LMVs from 2011 to 2016. While initially the plant will simply do the final assembly, the goal is eventually use fifty percent Russian components in the manufacturing process. The Russian military has also expressed an interest in purchasing Freccia armored vehicles and Centauro wheeled tanks. Two of each type of vehicle are likely to be transferred to Russia sometime this year for testing purposes.

The deal to build Italian LMVs in Russia generated significant opposition among segments of the Russian military and also in its defense industry, which argued that it was taking business away from the Russian-designed GAZ Tigr. The military responded that the Tigr did not fully meet its requirements and would have to be significantly upgraded.

Israel: The Russian military has also concluded several deals to purchase Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from Israel. An initial $53 million deal was signed in 2009. Through this deal, Russia received two Bird Eye 400 systems worth 4 million dollars, eight I View MK150 tactical UAVs worth 37 million dollars, and two Searcher Mk II multi-mission UAVs worth 12 million dollars. In July 2010, the two sides agreed to a deal for an additional 36 Israeli UAVs, worth $100 million. In October 2010, Russia’s Oboronprom and Israel Aerospace Industries agreed to a three-year, $400 million contract that will allow the Russian company to assemble UAVs from Israeli components. As part of the deals, Israel has begun training 50 Russian UAV pilots at an Israeli base. Russian and Israeli negotiators are currently discussing the possibility of forming a joint venture to build more UAVs for the Russian military, which estimates it will need 100 or more UAVs to ensure effective battlefield reconnaissance.

Reports published by Wikileaks indicate that Russia had initially sought to purchase more advanced Israeli UAVs, including the Heron 1, in a deal worth a total of $1 billion dollars. Israeli defense officials eventually rejected this deal because of concerns that the technology may end up in Chinese hands.

Russia has focused on acquiring Israeli UAV technology because of the demonstrated inability of its domestic defense industry to overcome problems with domestic UAVs. For example, the Tipchak system is reported to have a low maximum altitude and a distinct acoustic signature that is audible from long distances, which together combine to make it extremely vulnerable to attack from the ground. A new generation system will not be available for at least three years. Furthermore, Russian defense industry has had particular problems producing miniaturized and lightweight components, which are necessary in UAV payloads, and reliable electronics, which are needed for UAV navigation and targeting. After repeated failures of domestic UAVs, the Russian military has decided that foreign assistance was essential for further progress in developing domestic UAV production capabilities.

Sales and joint projects: Until recently, Russian military sales to NATO countries have been largely limited to the maintenance and modernization of armaments owned by former Warsaw Pact states that have become NATO members over the last decade. In addition, some of these countries have received Russian military hardware in exchange for the forgiveness of Soviet-era debt. In this context, Hungary received fighter airplanes and armored personnel carriers, while Slovakia and the Czech Republic received various aircraft and helicopters. Greece is the only NATO state that regularly buys Russian military equipment. In recent years, this has included various types of missiles, guided munitions, and small landing ships, as well as S-300 air defense systems originally intended for Cyprus. Other NATO states have made occasional deals in recent years, including the purchase of 800 Kornet anti-tank missiles by Turkey, Igla portable surface-to-air missiles by Slovakia, Slovenia and the UK, and Mi-17 helicopters by Poland and Latvia. In addition, NATO states have joined together since 2006 to lease up to 6 An-124 transport aircraft on a charter basis. Finally, the United States and the United Arab Emirates have in recent years bought a total of 35 Mi-17 transport helicopters for transfer to Afghanistan, including 21 bought by the U.S. in April 2011 for $370 million.

Russia has just begun some joint research and development projects with Western defense industrial companies, including plans for naval cooperation with Thales and general defense cooperation with EADS and DCN. One possibility for cooperation with NATO is the development of a heavy tactical transport helicopter, using the existing Russian Mi-26 helicopter as a base. For the moment, none of these potential cooperative ventures have advanced beyond the discussion stage.

Future Prospects

NATO-Russia cooperation is gradually returning to a trajectory of broadening and deepening, which it was on prior to the deep freeze brought on by the August 2008 Russia-Georgia war. Cooperation is accelerating in all three major areas: training, operations, and procurement. Ventures thought impossible just a year ago, such as a joint European missile defense system, joint operations in Afghanistan, and joint development of military hardware, are all on the horizon. As with past efforts at cooperation, the current rapprochement is still fragile and could be easily derailed by changes in the political atmosphere in Russia or the United States. But for now, the signs are more hopeful than they have been in almost a decade.


Russia-NATO military cooperation (Part 2: Defense industrial cooperation with France)

Defense Industrial Cooperation

As Russian military leaders have grown frustrated with the failures of their country’s domestic defense industry, they have become increasingly willing to procure military equipment from NATO countries and to engage in joint military industrial projects with them.

France: In recent years, the Russian military has considered a number of purchases from NATO countries. The most extensive cooperation has been with France. The recent deal for the Mistral amphibious assault ship is the most notable Russian military purchase from abroad in recent history. While the final contract has not yet been signed, the rough outlines of the likely deal are well known. Russia is set to purchase two Mistral-class ships, to be built in France at a total cost of approximately 980 million euros. The two sides have not yet agreed on whether Russia would be charged an additional 170 million euros for logistics and crew training expenses, or if those items would be included in the construction price. In addition, Russia would pay 90 million Euros for construction licenses and technical documentation that would allow two more Mistral ships to be built in Russia.

In addition to the ships themselves, Russia is going to receive some of the advanced technology that is used on the French versions of these ships. This will include the SENIT-9 combat information system, but without license rights and without the Link 11 and Link 16 NATO communications systems. The transfer of NATO communications systems would require the unanimous consent of all NATO members. Therefore, even though the request is currently under consideration at NATO HQ, it will be rejected. It is certain to be opposed by the Baltic states, and likely to be opposed by a number of other NATO countries including the United States. It is interesting to note that Russia’s request to receive these systems was justified by its desire to participate in joint missions with NATO navies. The lack of license rights means that Russia will not be able to use the SENIT-9 technology on other ships, nor will it be able to use the knowledge acquired by building such systems to improve its own ability to manufacture advanced combat information systems.

The SENIT-9 systems used on the French Mistral-class ships are derived from the US Navy’s Naval Tactical Data System (NTDS) and are based on the tri-dimensional MRR3D-NG multi-role radar, built by Thales, which operates on the C Band and incorporates IFF capabilities. The French version can be connected to Link 11, Link 16, and Link 22 NATO communications systems. The purpose of the system is to centralize all data from the ship’s sensors in the ship’s command center. Russian military officials argue that having these systems on board will allow them to turn their Mistrals into command ships that will be capable of providing fire control for various forces in the open seas, including dividing targets among surface ships, submarines and aviation.

Reports in French newspapers indicate that the Thales MRR-3D-NG radar, as well as a Racal-Decca helicopter control radar, will also be included as part of the deal. It seems very unlikely that the Russian Mistrals will be equipped to use French communications systems, based on French satellites SYRACUSE 3-A and SYRACUSE 3-B. These satellites provide 45% of the Super High Frequency secured communications of NATO. For Russia, it would make much more sense to equip the ships with communications systems that connect with their own satellites. Otherwise, the ships would not be able to communicate with other Russian ships.

While the reason for the Russian purchase of these ships has been the subject of extensive debate in Western and Russian sources, a consensus has recently emerged on this question. The main purpose of the ships will be to serve as command and control vessels. The first two ships will go to the Pacific Fleet as part of a significant upgrade that will turn that fleet into the most capable of Russia’s four fleets. The ships’ second task will be to serve as helicopter carriers. They will be capable of carrying either Ka-52 attack helicopters or Ka-27 anti-submarine helicopters. While the ships are obviously capable of carrying out amphibious landing operations, this will be a lesser task for them.

Finally, the Mistral ships are also being purchased with the goal of revitalizing Russia’s declining shipbuilding industry. The third and fourth ships will be built at shipyards in St. Petersburg, which will be reconstructed for the purpose, most likely with French assistance. The goal is to be able to use the experience of building ships to French standards to improve indigenous military shipbuilding capabilities.

While the Mistral deal has received the most attention, Russian-French military cooperation actually began several years ago. In 2007, Russia bought French aircraft targeting containers from Sagem and thermal imaging equipment from Thales. One hundred units of the latter were installed on Russian T-90M tanks. Subsequently, an agreement was signed in 2010 to manufacture thermal imagers under license at a Russian plant in Vologda. At the same time, Russia bought some French communications equipment to test the possibility of integrating this equipment into its tanks and armored personnel carriers. The total value of the 2010 deal was estimated at 300 million Euros. French companies had been installing this equipment for years on Russian tanks and aircraft sold abroad, including Su-30MKI aircraft sold to India, MiG-29s sold to Algeria, T-80U tanks sold to Cyprus, T-90S tanks sold to India, and BMP-3 armored personnel carriers sold to the United Arab Emirates.

The Russian military is negotiating with French companies for further items, including Sagem’s Sigma 30 artillery navigation equipment and its infantry integrated equipment and communications units (FELIN). The FELIN units include a set of navigation tools, secure radio communications equipment, computer equipment, GPS receivers, helmet sights for individual small arms and integrated electronic targeting devices. A limited number of these may be purchased for Military Intelligence Directorate special forces units. In February, First Deputy Defense Minister Popovkin announced that the Russian military would like to have a Russian analog of the FELIN equipment designed in the next decade. The Sigma 30 units would be used to modernize Russian Grad and Smerch multiple rocket launchers. They are already used for this purpose in other countries, such as Poland.

Recently, the Russian Center for the Analysis of the World Arms Trade announced that the Russian border troops were negotiating with the French company Panhard for the acquisition of 500 VBL light armored vehicles for $260 million.

Russia-NATO military cooperation (Part 1: training and operations)

A few months ago, I started writing articles for the English-language version of the French publication DSI: Defense & Securite Internationale. Unfortunately, that publication has now been suspended. I’m going to put a couple of the pieces I did for them here, including some that were never published. They’re kind of long, so I’m going to break them up into parts. The first is on Russian cooperation with NATO and was written about six months ago. Today’s installment will cover joint training and operations, while subsequent parts will deal with defense industrial cooperation. I’ll be traveling over the next week, so it seems like a good time to put this up. I’ll complete the update on Russian naval construction in a week or so, after I return.


Moscow’s cooperation with NATO and its member states is accelerating, as the Russian government and military adjust their threat assessments to focus more on Russia’s unstable southern neighbors and on China. In recent years, Russia and NATO states have conducted joint anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia. They have also reached agreements for extensive intelligence-sharing in the area of counter-terrorism. Russia has played a critical role in NATO operations in Afghanistan by allowing for the transit of both lethal and non-lethal cargoes to the region by both land and air routes. And Russian procurement of Western military equipment may gradually transition into joint research and development.

Joint Training

Through the mechanism of the NATO-Russia Council, the two sides have established several joint training initiatives and conducted a number of joint exercises. One of the earliest forms of cooperation has involved the establishment in 2002 of the Russia-NATO Center for Social Adaptation, with seven branch offices, which retrained more than 2000 former Russian military officers for civilian life. Currently active training projects include Russian participation in NATO exercises such as Combined Endeavor and Steadfast Joist. The Russian military also participates in multilateral and bilateral exercises with NATO member states, including naval exercises such as FRUKUS and BALTOPS. Russia and Italy are currently planning to hold naval and army exercises sometime in 2011.

Russia and NATO states have also conducted joint exercises on emergency civil response to terrorist acts and natural catastrophes. NATO forces participated in such exercises in Russia in 2002 and 2004, while Russian forces participated in NATO exercises in Italy in 2006 and Norway in 2009. Future joint emergency response exercises are planned.

Cooperation is gradually developing in the area of missile defense, where joint table-top theater missile defense exercises have taken place over the last decade in the United States, the Netherlands, and Russia. Although cooperation in this area was halted in 2008, it will be resumed in early 2012. The goal of these exercises is to develop an integrated approach to European missile defense, with both sides discussing the possibility of a Europe-wide missile defense system. This discussion reached the ministerial level at the April 2011 NATO summit in Berlin.

Finally, NATO and Russia have a long history of conducting joint maritime search and rescue exercises, including Sorbet Royal in 2005 and Bold Monarch in 2008. A Russian Black Sea Fleet submarine may participate in Bold Monarch 2011, which is being billed as the world’s largest submarine escape and rescue training event.

Operational Cooperation

Cooperation between Russia and NATO and its member states has increasingly moved beyond just training. In recent years, Russia has cooperated in a number of joint military and security operations with NATO and its member states. Most significantly, these include naval anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and Russian assistance to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. In addition, Russia routinely works with NATO states on counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics operations in Europe and Eurasia.

Since 2008, the Russian navy has had a nearly constant presence in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. Ships from three of the four major Russian fleets have participated in anti-piracy operations in the region, though in recent years the operation has been assigned to the Pacific Fleet. While the NATO anti-piracy operation in the region was only launched in late 2010, the area has been the site of the most significant international naval cooperation in the world in the last decade. International efforts have been coordinated through Combined Task Force 151 and through the European Union’s Operation Atalanta. While Russian ships have not formally joined any of these operations, they have coordinated their efforts in the region with those of the other participating states. In fact, when NATO froze cooperation with Russia in the aftermath of the Georgia war, cooperation between Russian and NATO member state naval units in the Gulf of Aden remained virtually the only avenue for military communication between Russia and NATO member states. As cooperation through other channels gradually resumed over the next year, anti-piracy operations remained a principal area of joint concern for Russia and NATO member states.

Since the spring of 2009, Russia has allowed the United States and NATO to transport goods across its territory in order to supply their operations in Afghanistan. Furthermore, Russia has allowed the transport of lethal cargo and military personnel via overflights of Russian territory. While this route was initially designed to serve as an alternative to the previously established route via Pakistan because of that country’s growing instability, it has since become critical to the NATO operation in Afghanistan. Fifty percent of all non-lethal goods destined for Afghanistan are now being transported via the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) and U.S. military planners hope to increase that ratio to 75 percent over the next year. While not all NDN shipments go through Russia, the majority do. Furthermore, NATO has negotiated an agreement with Russia to allow the shipment of lethal goods and personnel across Russian territory by land.

Russia has also worked with NATO member states’ forces to train Afghan forces, particularly in counter-narcotics operations, and is also helping to rebuild infrastructure in Afghanistan. Russia-NATO cooperation in counter-narcotics is much deeper, with Russian law enforcement officials having now conducted joint operations with personnel from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency not just in Afghanistan, but also in St. Petersburg.

Russia and NATO states cooperate closely in the area of counter-terrorism, mostly through intelligence-sharing agreements. In addition, Russian ships have repeatedly participated in NATO’s Active Endeavor counter-terrorism operation in the Mediterranean Sea. While Russian participation was suspended after the 2008 war in Georgia, it seems likely that Russian ships will return in the fall of 2011.