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.


India-Russia Defense Integration Is Likely To Endure

Here’s one last Oxford Analytica brief to tide over dedicated readers while I try to finish a big project. This one was originally written in early October. If all goes well, expect new material on the blog right after MLK day.

SUBJECT: The outlook for Russian-Indian defence cooperation.

SIGNIFICANCE: India will be the Russian defence industry’s biggest client for at least the next four years, accounting for 55% of all foreign orders. Many of these contracts are for joint ventures that will tie the two countries’ defence industries even closer together.

ANALYSIS: Despite recent reports that Russian aircraft did not advance to the final round of India’s tender for a medium multi-role combat aircraft, Russia’s defence industry will dominate India’s foreign arms purchases for the foreseeable future.

Ships and submarines Cooperation between the Indian and Russian navies has endured since the 1960s.  About half the Indian Navy’s major surface combatants and two-thirds of its submarines were built in Russia or the Soviet Union:

  • Frigates In recent years, India has purchased six Russian-built Krivak (Talwar) class frigates. The first three were delivered in 2003-04, while the second set is being delivered in 2009-12.  Each of the new frigates is to be armed with eight jointly developed BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles, a 100-millimetre gun, a Shtil surface-to-air missile (SAM) system, two Kashtan air-defence gun/missile systems, two twin 533-mm torpedo launchers and an anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopter.
  • Submarines 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 modernised at the Zvezdochka shipyard in Severodvinsk, which included a complete overhaul of hull structures; improvements to control systems, sonar, electronic warfare systems, and an integrated weapon control system; as well as adding SS-N-27 anti-ship missiles.
  • Weapons systems Over the years, India has bought a number of major Russian weapons systems for domestically built ships. These purchases have included anti-ship missiles and SAMs, 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, SS-N-27 anti-ship missiles, and SA-N-12 surface-to-air missiles.

Carrier delays The Severodvinsk shipyard is nearing completion on a long-delayed project to refurbish the former Soviet aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov (INS Vikramaditya), which was sold to India in 2004.  Under the terms of the original deal, India would have receive the ship for free in 2008 — but would have paid 800 million dollars for necessary upgrades and refurbishment, and an additional 1 billion dollars for 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;
  • a Kashtan close-in weapons system;
  • 9M-311 SAMs;
  • torpedo tubes; and
  • artillery units.

Recurring delays and significant cost over-runs brought the Indian side close to cancelling the deal, though in March 2010 the two sides reached an agreement to increase the payment for retrofitting to 2.3 billion dollars. According to the new contract, the carrier will be transferred to India in 2012. As of July 2010, all structural work had been completed and almost all large equipment had been installed, although cabling work is continuing.

Submarine lease In August 2010, Russia officially transferred an Akula-II class submarine to India, which will lease it for ten years. An Indian crew is currently in Russia being trained to operate the submarine. The lease is the result of a 2004 deal through which India invested 650 million dollars in completing construction on the submarine. It was due to be transferred in 2008, but technical problems during construction, followed by a deadly malfunction of the automatic fire extinguishing system during sea trials, delayed the transfer.

Aircraft The vast majority of India’s fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters were purchased from Russia.  In 2008, the two countries signed a contract to upgrade existing Mig-29s, in service since the 1980s, at a total cost of 964 million dollars. The first four aircraft will be upgraded in Russia, while the other 60-plus 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; and
  • revamped engines.

As a result, the lifespan of the aircraft will be extended by 25-40 years.  In addition, in January the Indian Navy ordered 29 more Mig-29K aircraft at a cost of 1.5 billion dollars. Together with the 16 identical aircraft ordered as part of the Vikramaditya deal, these planes will form the core of India’s naval aviation for the foreseeable future.

The Indian government has reached an agreement with Sukhoi to assemble in India Su-30MKI fighters from kits purchased from Russia. It is also planning to modernise its existing fleet of Su-30MKI fighters, 42 of which will be upgraded with new radars, avionics and BrahMos supersonic missiles. The project will begin in 2012 and will be carried out by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) at a cost of 2.34 billion dollars, with assistance from Russian experts. By the end of this decade, the Indian Air Force will have a total of 272 Su-30MKI fighters in service at a total cost of around 14 billion dollars, making it the dominant aircraft in its fleet.

India has also purchased 139 Mi-17 helicopters as a replacement for its aging Mi-8s. The first lot of these is being delivered this year.

Tanks and armoured vehicles The Indian army currently operates 657 T-90 tanks, most of which were assembled in India under license. Another 1,000 T-90M tanks will be built locally over the next ten years. The Indian army also operates almost 2,000 T-72 tanks and large numbers of BMP-1 and BMP-2 armoured vehicles.

Joint projects In addition to purchases, the Indian and Russian defence industries are working on a range of joint projects, some of which have already resulted in very successful products:

  • BrahMos Considered by some experts to be world’s fastest and most accurate cruise missile, the BrahMos has a range of 290 kilometres (km), 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. 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 BrahMos II missile will be ready by 2014 and will be installed on the Kolkata class destroyers. The BrahMos is not currently used by the Russian military. It is available for export, with Chile, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia and Malaysia involved in negotiations for potential purchases.
  • Multi-role transport aircraft This project is in its initial stages, with costs being split evenly among Rosoboroneksport, the United Aircraft Corporation and HAL. A prototype aircraft may be built in six to eight years. It will be modelled on the Il-214, with a range of 2,500 km and a payload of up to 20 tonnes. The goal is produce around 200 aircraft, with 30% available for export.
  • Fifth-generation fighter jet HAL is cooperating with Sukhoi on the development of a new fighter aircraft, which is expected to join the Russian Air Force in 2015.  India will procure at least 50 planes in a two-seat version that will be armed with BrahMos missiles.

CONCLUSION: Military cooperation has moved beyond arms sales and licensing of Russian designs for production in India.  Successful joint ventures promise to integrate the two countries’ defence industries for the foreseeable future.