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).

Aircraft

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.

 

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