An Enduring Partnership: Russian-Indian military cooperation (Part 3: joint projects and future prospects)

And here’s the conclusion to the three part series on Russian-Indian defense cooperation, written last summer. New posts return next week.

Joint Projects

In addition to purchases, Indian and Russian defense industries are working on a range of joint projects, some of which have already resulted in very successful products. As India increasingly shifts from importing to domestic manufacture of military hardware, joint production is likely to replace sales as the main driver of Russian-Indian defense cooperation.

The BrahMos supersonic cruise missile is considered by some experts to be the fastest and most accurate cruise missile in the world. It has a range of 290km, can be used against ships or land targets, and can be launched from ships or land. Air and submarine launched versions are currently under development, with a design complete for Russia’s Amur diesel submarine. The missile is currently in service on Indian frigates and destroyers, as well as in the Indian army on mobile launchers. The air version will be installed on Indian aircraft by 2012. A faster and more accurate BrahMos II missile will be ready by 2014 and will be installed on the Kolkata class destroyers. It will be capable of speeds up to Mach 6. BrahMos version III, designed to be highly maneuverable and capable of steep dives, is currently under development. 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.

A project to jointly develop a multi-role transport aircraft is in initial stages, with costs being split evenly among Rosoboronexport, UAC, and HAL. A joint venture was registered in India in December 2010. Developers believe that a prototype aircraft may be built in 6-8 years. It will be modeled on the Il-214, with a range of 2500km and a payload of up to 20 tons. The goal is produce around 200 aircraft, with 30 percent available for export.

India’s HAL is cooperating with Sukhoi on the development of a new fifth-generation fighter aircraft, which is slated to join the Russian and Indian air forces in the second half of this decade. This plane will be highly “stealthy” and highly maneuverable. Its top speed will exceed 2000 km per hour, with a maximum range of up to 5000 km. Its ability to take off and land on short runways make it a potential candidate for the development of a carrier-based naval version. A contract to produce a joint design for a two-seat version of the plane was signed in December 2010. The contract calls for Russia to procure 200 single-seat and 50 twin-seat aircraft, while India purchases 50 single-seat and 200 twin-seaters. 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. Currently, three single-seat prototypes are undergoing flight tests in Russia and may join the Russian air force as early as 2013. The Indian prototype is expected to be ready by 2015. The total value of the joint project is estimated at over $35 billion.

Future Prospects

Military cooperation between Russia and India is obviously very strong. The partnership has moved beyond arms sales and licensing of Russian designs for production in India to joint ventures that promise to link the two countries’ defense industries into close cooperation for the foreseeable future. At the same time, some recent problems with the relationship may be a harbinger of a long-term decline in Russian arms sales to India. The delays and cost overruns that have plagued the conversion of the Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier into the INS Vikramaditya have been the most significant source for Indian complaints in recent years. The problems seem to have been worked out and Indian navy officials have recently stated that they have no complaints at this point.

At the same time, there have been problems with the timely provision of spare parts and resulting difficulties in repairing and servicing Russian-manufactured equipment by the Indian military. 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. As a result, the modernized MiG-21s are to be retired by 2018, rather than the originally planned 2025.

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. In addition, 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.

India’s desire to maintain a diverse set of suppliers has recently had some negative effects on Russian suppliers. Most significantly, the MiG-35 was not included among the finalists for India’s medium multi-role combat aircraft competition. Since this loss leaves MiG with no guaranteed orders for the MiG-35, it is now unclear whether this jet will be built at all. Similarly, India recently decided to purchase six C-130 transport aircraft from the United States, rather than Russian Il-76 planes.

Finally, whereas in the initial stages of its military expansion, India was focused on procuring armaments that were cheap and easy to use, its foreign purchases are now largely limited to the most advanced technology. Simpler weapons and platforms, such as smaller ships and aircraft, are now largely built in India either to domestic designs or under license from foreign designers. As a result, Indian demand for foreign military hardware is likely to shrink over time. If Russia is to remain competitive on this shrinking market, it will have to provide its most advanced equipment and to expand joint design and production. The fact that it has been willing to do so with the Su-30MKI and T-50 fighter jets is a sign that Russia greatly values its partnership with the Indian military. India also values the partnership, since Russia is the only country currently willing to jointly develop military hardware with India. So despite the above-mentioned bumps in the road, it seems likely that Russian-Indian defense cooperation is likely to become stronger over the next decade.

 

One thought on “An Enduring Partnership: Russian-Indian military cooperation (Part 3: joint projects and future prospects)

  1. Nice Blog. I am an Indian and I fully concur with the view stated above. I think India needs faithful allies and Russia is surely one of them. From the bottom of my heart I pray that in future, both the nations exhibit ever increasing signs of solidarity.

    India’s military expansion and indigenization both owe a lot to unwavering Russian co-operation over the past few decades.

    Hence, India will always stand by Russia unless Russia deliberately throws India away.

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