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.