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.

 

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.