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.

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PAK FA: An initial success for the Russian military

Today, Russia’s fifth generation fighter plane had its first test flight. Sukhoi’s T-50, also known as the PAK FA (which stands for “perspective aviation complex for frontal aviation,” I kid you not). The test flight was originally supposed to occur yesterday, but problems with the steering and brake systems caused the flight to be delayed by a day. Todays flight lasted 47 minutes and went off without a hitch (see the video below).

This plane is supposed to be comparable to the American F-22 fighter plane, which entered service in 2005, though somewhat lighter (therefore sharing some characteristics with the newer F-35 joint strike fighter, which is currently in final in-flight testing). Design of the T-50 began in 2002, with the first prototype being built in 2007. While the plane is obviously capable of flight, it is not clear which of its systems are ready, as journalists were not allowed to approach the plane closely. Initial reports stated that the fifth generation engines are not yet ready, so the prototype flew with a modernized Saturn-117S engine, similar to those used on the Su-35BM. Subsequently, Saturn, the manufacturer of the engine, put out a press releasestating that the prototype flew with an entirely new engine that was not based on the 117S. The same information was reported by RIA-Novosti. At the same time, no information was provided on the readiness of the plane’s radar and weapons systems.

The T-50 is expected to reach a maximum speed of 2000km/hour, have a range of over 5000 kilometers (with refueling) and have superior maneuverability and stealth characteristics. It is also expected to have the other characteristics of fifth generation fighter planes, such as integrated multifunctional radioelectronic systems and new advanced weaponry. It is being designed in cooperation with the Indian Air Force.

The air force plans to procure 150-200 T-50s by 2030, with India procuring at least another 200-250. There are also plans to sell the aircraft to countries that would like to purchase a fifth generation fighter plane, but do not want to or are restricted from purchasing American or Chinese models. The cost of the plane’s design is assessed at around $12-14 billion. Each plane is expected to cost $100 million, which compares favorably to the $175 million cost of each F-22, but is more expensive than the much lighter F-35.

Plans call for the plane to enter serial production in the next 3-5 years, with the air force receiving the first planes in 2015. However, Ruslan Pukhov, the director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, believes that because of expected budget cuts, it is more likely to enter active service sometime in 2018-20. If this is the case, it will mean that Russia will be about 12-15 years behind the US in fighter aircraft design, but about on par with China. Not a bad result given that pretty much all development was suspended in the 1990s due to a lack of financing.

The test flight is a big psychological boost for the Russian defense industry, which has been criticized by top government officials in recent months for its inability to build high tech weaponry. As Vitaly Shlykov noted, it may lead to an increase in exports for a variety of Russian weapons, showing buyers that Russia’s arms manufacturers are capable of producing the most modern weapons systems.

Russian military planners expect to use the fighter to counter potential threats from “neighboring states that are conducting a demonstratively russophobic foreign policy” and may come to possess F-35s in the next 15-20 years. It is also expected to be used to counter potential threats from China and its fifth generation fighters, which are currently in development. How real these threats might actually be is another matter, but as journalists and military planners like to point out, the plane is designed for a 40-50 year lifespan, and no one knows what the world will be like in 2040 or 2050.