Indo-Rus­sian de­fence ties – Wan­ing is mis­nomer

SP's MAI - - MILITARY VIEWPOINT - The views ex­pressed herein are the per­sonal views of the au­thor.

Even as the armies of In­dia and US are en­gaged in joint mil­i­tary two-week ex­er­cise ‘ Yudh Ab­hyas 2017’ to hone their skills in counter in­sur­gency and counter ter­ror op­er­a­tions un­der a joint brigade head­quar­ters at a mil­i­tary base in Wash­ing­ton, the In­dian Mil­i­tary is look­ing for­ward to a first ever tri-ser­vice joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cise with Rus­sia sched­uled dur­ing Oc­to­ber 2017. This will be the first time In­dia will de­ploy troops, weapon plat­forms and equip­ment from the Army, Navy and Air Force with any coun­try – ‘Indra’ In­dia-Rus­sia joint com­bat ex­er­cise to be held at Vladi­vos­tok, Rus­sia from Oc­to­ber 19 to 29. Some 350 troops, multi-role stealth frigate, anti-sub­ma­rine corvette and air­crafts will par­tic­i­pate from the In­dian side.

For some time, there has been de­bate whether In­dia-Rus­sian re­la­tions are wan­ing, more so be­cause of sale of Rus­sian de­fence equip­ment to Pak­istan in­clud­ing at­tack he­li­copters. How­ever, this needs to be seen in the back­drop of in­creas­ing US sanc­tions on Rus­sia, de­fence ex­ports con­tribut­ing to Rus­sian econ­omy, and In­dia di­ver­si­fy­ing de­fence pro­cure­ment. Many may be un­aware that In­dia has in­vested $5.5 bil­lion in the oil sec­tor in Rus­sia and the largest Rus­sian in­vest­ment in In­dia stands at $12.9 bil­lion. The re­boot­ing of bi­lat­eral ties is ev­i­dent from: role played by Rus­sia in the pull­back from Dok­lam; Rus­sia open­ing re­source-rich Far East to In­dia for trade and in­vest­ment post re­cent meet of the Eastern Eco­nomic Fo­rum (EEF) at Vladi­vos­tok, at­tended by Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs Min­is­ter Sushma Swaraj; Indo-Rus­sian joint vi­sion of achiev­ing bi­lat­eral trade of $30 bil­lion by 2025; Zamir Kab­ulov, Pres­i­dent Putin’s spe­cial en­voy to Afghanistan vis­it­ing In­dia next month to ad­dress In­dian con­cerns in­clud­ing about Rus­sia’s role in Afghanistan.

In­ter­est­ingly, a view­point in Pak­istani me­dia is that Pak­istan must be cau­tious in fa­cil­i­tat­ing Rus­sia’s as­so­ci­a­tion with the Chi­naPak­istan Eco­nomic Cor­ri­dor (CPEC) be­cause Pak­istan can­not af­ford to let go ‘any’ ben­e­fits of CPEC, be­sides Moscow’s sup­port to Pak­istan may es­trange Bei­jing and Turkey. Com­ing to de­fence re­la­tions, Arun Jait­ley, the then De­fence Min­is­ter had at­tended the 17th meet­ing of the In­dia-Rus­sia In­ter-gov­ern­men­tal Com­mis­sion on Mil­i­tary-tech­ni­cal Co­op­er­a­tion on June 21-23 in Moscow, jointly chaired with Rus­sian De­fence Min­is­ter Gen­eral Sergey Shoigu. In­dia is mov­ing ahead with its plan to lease a third nu­clear at­tack sub­ma­rine from Rus­sia for an es­ti­mated $ 2.5 bil­lion. This will in­clude the refit of the ves­sel at a Rus­sian ship­yard fol­lowed by 10 year de­ploy­ment with the In­dian Navy.

In­dia is to ac­quire arms and equip­ment worth $10.5 bil­lion from Rus­sia in­clud­ing “five S-400 Tri­umf ad­vanced air de­fence mis­sile sys­tems, four Grig­orivich-class frigates and 200 Kamov226T light he­li­copters ac­cord­ing to news re­ports. An in­ter-gov­ern­men­tal agree­ment for four frigates through a part­ner­ship be­tween Rus­sian and In­dian ship­yards was signed dur­ing Rus- sian pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s visit to In­dia in Oc­to­ber last year. While two frigates will come from Rus­sia, two oth­ers will be con­structed at an In­dian ship­yard with Rus­sian co­op­er­a­tion. The class’s orig­i­nal gas tur­bines were made by Ukrainian state-owned en­ter­prise Zo­rya-Mash­proekt. With ten­sion con­tin­u­ing be­tween the two na­tions, Ukraine has re­fused to sup­ply any more en­gines to Rus­sia. In Au­gust this year, the DAC ap­proved the ` 490 crore pur­chase of Zo­rya gas-tur­bine en­gine sets from Ukraine for two of the Grig­orivich-class frigates be­ing built in Rus­sia.

Dur­ing the Modi-Putin sum­mit in Goa last year, In­dia had agreed to pur­chase four 4,000-tonne Grig­orivich-class guided-mis­sile stealth frigates at cost of $4 bil­lion from Rus­sia; two of these frigates are half-con­structed in Rus­sia due to bi­lat­eral Rus­sia-Ukraine prob­lems, the other two will be built in the Goa Ship­yard in In­dia. In­dia will now ac­quire the Zo­rya gas-tur­bine en­gines from Ukraine and then ship them to Rus­sia for the first two frigates. The Rus­sians of­fered In­dia the S-300/S- 300V BMD sys­tem as far back as the mid1990s. Dur­ing the De­cem­ber 2014 sum­mit meet­ing be­tween Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi and Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, Rus­sia had agreed to sup­ply 12 nu­clear power re­ac­tors over the next 20 years.

Rus­sia has been a long-stand­ing de­fence part­ner of In­dia and both the coun­tries are now eye­ing to fur­ther deepen the ties. Dur­ing Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s visit to Rus­sia in June, both coun­tries had de­cided to “up­grade and in­ten­sify” de­fence co­op­er­a­tion through joint man­u­fac­ture, co-pro­duc­tion and code­vel­op­ment of key mil­i­tary hard­ware and equip­ment. A vi­sion doc­u­ment, is­sued then had said that both the coun­tries also de­cided to work to­wards a qual­i­ta­tively higher level of mil­i­taryto-mil­i­tary co­op­er­a­tion. In­dia has al­ready de­cided to sig­nif­i­cantly ramp up its de­fence ca­pa­bil­ity and has lined up bil­lions of dol­lars of pro­cure­ment pro­pos­als as part of mil­i­tary mod­ern­iza­tion. The co-pro­duc­tion of the BrahMos su­per­sonic cruise mis­sile is a shin­ing ex­am­ple of Indo-Rus­sian de­fence co­op­er­a­tion al­beit with­out trans­fer of tech­nol­ogy ( ToT) be­cause of which sale of BrahMos to Viet­nam hasn’t yet come through. ToT re­mained the bed­bug in mil­i­tary-tech­ni­cal co­op­er­a­tion even as air­craft and tanks were man­u­fac­tured un­der li­cense in In­dia. But that as per re­cent me­dia re­ports is go­ing to be the form with US firms join­ing the ‘Make in In­dia’ projects.

Rus­sian help to In­dia dur­ing the 1971 Indo-Pak War can­not be for­got­ten; Indo-Rus­sian friend­ship has stood the tests of his­tory – both sup­port­ing each other in times of duress in­clud­ing at in­ter­na­tional fo­rums. It is in the in­ter­est of both coun­tries to keep the re­la­tion­ship strong be­cause in the geostrate­gic and geopo­lit­i­cal flat­board of the world, their des­tinies will re­main en­twined.

LT GEN­ERAL P.C. KA­TOCH (RETD)

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