India is the only ma­jor nation that buys arms from both the US and Rus­sia. Deals worth over $40 bn (Rs 2.8 lakh cr) are in the pipe­line

India Today - - THE BIG STORY -

As a mis­sile sys­tem, the S-400 has no peers. It is the equiv­a­lent of a gi­gan­tic fly-swat­ter that can knock down any­thing in the air. Its man­u­fac­tur­ers say the mis­sile sys­tem can track 300 tar­gets over 600 km away and use four dif­fer­ent types of mis­siles to shoot down fighter jets, drones, cruise mis­siles and tac­ti­cal bal­lis­tic mis­siles 400 km away (see graphic over­leaf ). It is Rus­sia’s trump card in the highly com­pet­i­tive arms busi­ness–NATO mem­ber Turkey has it and even US al­lies like Saudi Ara­bia and Qatar are look­ing to buy it. The S-400 is also to­day the crown jewel in a bur­geon­ing India-Rus­sia

arms re­la­tion­ship. India signed a $5.4 bil­lion (Rs 40,000 crore) deal to buy five mis­sile sys­tems on Oc­to­ber 5, 2018. Each sys­tem com­prises eight launch­ers, 32 mis­siles, a com­mand post and mul­ti­ple track­ing and fire con­trol radars The deal was signed in the teeth of stiff op­po­si­tion from the US. Both coun­tries set up a spe­cial bank­ing mech­a­nism to pay for it in eu­ros rather than dol­lars to by­pass US fi­nan­cial chan­nels.

By the end of next year, India will get its first mis­sile sys­tem, mak­ing us the third global cus­tomer af­ter China and Turkey. All five sys­tems will be de­liv­ered by April 2023. The US has raised a geopo­lit­i­cal storm over the sales. It has halted de­liv­er­ies of its front­line F-35 fighter air­craft to Turkey and im­posed sanc­tions on China for buying the mis­sile. Wash­ing­ton has is­sued veiled warn­ings of “con­se­quences” as it dan­gles a Damo­cles-like sword of Coun­ter­ing Amer­ica’s Ad­ver­saries Through Sanc­tions Act (CAATSA) over New Delhi. Rus­sia has been un­der US sanc­tions since 2014 for its in­ter­ven­tion in Ukraine, an­nex­a­tion of Crimea and alleged at­tempts to in­flu­ence the 2016 US pres­i­den­tial elec­tions.

In June this year, an un­named US gov­ern­ment

official told news agency PTI in Wash­ing­ton about the “se­ri­ous im­pli­ca­tions on (Indo-US) defence ties” if India went ahead and bought the S-400 from Rus­sia. “We don’t com­min­gle high­est tech­nol­ogy sys­tems. There are threats posed by the pur­chase of an S-400. See the con­ver­sa­tion play­ing out in Turkey right now,” the official said, as­sert­ing that those same con­cerns would ap­ply to India as well.

India’s re­sponse has been to high­light its pol­icy of mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism and strate­gic au­ton­omy—the free­dom to choose its mil­i­tary sup­pli­ers. “We have many re­la­tion­ships... they have a his­tory,” for­eign min­is­ter S Jaishankar said at a joint press con­fer­ence with US sec­re­tary of state Mike Pom­peo in June on the S-400 is­sue. “We will do what is in our na­tional in­ter­est... part of a strate­gic part­ner­ship is the abil­ity of each coun­try to com­pre­hend and ap­pre­ci­ate the na­tional in­ter­est of the other,” he added.

In July 2018, the US Congress gave Pres­i­dent Trump the power to is­sue CAATSA waivers to coun­tries like India if he could cer­tify that India was do­ing enough to end its de­pen­dence on Rus­sian arms. As Wash­ing­ton has re­alised since then, New Delhi has ac­tu­ally in­creased its re­liance on Moscow. India has to mod­ernise its mil­i­tary as it con­fronts threats from a ram­pant China on its north­ern borders and an un­sta­ble Pak­istan to its west. In the next decade, it will re­port­edly spend over $250 bil­lion to do so. In the arms pipe­line are a leased nu­clear sub­ma­rine, four multi-role frigates, trans­port he­li­copters and a fac­tory to li­cense­pro­duce over 700,000 AK-203 ri­fles, the new­est vari­ant of the iconic Rus­sian ri­fle. The IAF is top­ping up its sag­ging fighter fleet with ad­di­tional buys of MiG-29 and Su30MKI fighter jets. Rus­sian firms are strong con­tenders in con­tests to build hard­ware lo­cally in collaborat­ion with In­dian part­ners—a Rs 40,000 crore or­der to build six sub­marines and a mam­moth Rs 1 lakh crore con­tract for 110 com­bat air­craft for the IAF. A se­ries of joint ex­er­cises have been planned be­tween the mil­i­taries of both sides.

So Indo-Rus­sian mil­i­tary ties will last well into the mid­dle of this cen­tury at least. Mean­while, India is also vi­tal to Amer­i­can in­ter­ests in the new Great Game play­ing out in the Indo-Pa­cific as the US deals with the threats of a ris­ing China. India is also one of the largest mar­kets for the US mil­i­tary-in­dus­trial com­plex. Hence, the arms tan­gle.


Just two months into the Modi gov­ern­ment’s sec­ond in­nings, South Block is un­equiv­o­cal: Rus­sia is back in the arms game. New Delhi-Moscow Aeroflot di­rect flights are now packed with In­dian defence del­e­ga­tions. D-G Ac­qui­si­tions Apurva Chan­dra, the key defence min­istry

“Rus­sia sup­plies weapons to China’s ri­vals India and Viet­nam. Both are also courted by the US. Both want strate­gic au­ton­omy” G. Parthasara­thy For­mer In­dian high com­mis­sioner to Pak­istan

(MoD) bu­reau­crat who de­cides on arms sales, has al­ready vis­ited Moscow twice. Defence Re­search and Devel­op­ment Or­gan­i­sa­tion (DRDO) chief Satheesh Reddy and IAF Air Chief Mar­shal B.S. Dhanoa have also led high-level vis­its to the Rus­sian cap­i­tal. A top Rus­sian official in Moscow terms “defence co­op­er­a­tion the back­bone of our bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship”. And this has been the case for over half-a-cen­tury. In the mid-1960s, Moscow sold MiG-21 all-weather su­per­sonic fight­ers and Fox­trot class pa­trol sub­marines to ce­ment an Indo-Soviet strate­gic part­ner­ship when war-win­ning plat­forms were de­nied to India by the West. The re­la­tion­ship blos­somed into the Peace and Friend­ship Treaty of Au­gust 1971 and mul­ti­ple Soviet UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil ve­toes that al­lowed Indira Gandhi to suc­cess­fully de­feat Pak­istan in the Bangladesh war. The re­la­tion­ship re­sumed af­ter the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 into ‘a spe­cial and privileged part­ner­ship’ un­der Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin. But in re­cent years, even the ‘spe­cial’ tag ex­changed by the two coun­tries in 2010 could not pre­vent ties from go­ing south.

The land­mark 2006 Indo-US Nu­clear Deal saw India buying $18 bil­lion worth of US trans­port planes, anti-sub­ma­rine air­craft, gunships, mis­siles, how­itzers and heavy lift he­li­copters over a decade. The Rus­sian arms in­dus­try, which counts India as its largest cus­tomer, lost out heav­ily. In its March 2019 re­port, the Stock­holm In­ter­na­tional Peace Re­search In­sti­tute (SIPRI) at­trib­uted an over­all 17 per cent de­crease in Rus­sian arms ex­ports to the lack of or­ders from India and Venezuela. Rus­sian arms ex­ports to India, SIPRI says, dipped by 42 per cent be­tween 2009-13 and 2014-18.

Then, Sochi hap­pened. The first in­for­mal sum­mit be­tween Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi and Pres­i­dent Putin at the Rus­sian sea­side re­sort in May 21 last year trans­formed the re­la­tion­ship. The outreach was partly driven by the huge dose of un­cer­tainty in­jected into global diplo­macy by Pres­i­dent Trump. New Delhi was forced to hedge its bets. “India looks around and won­ders, who’s (Trump’s) next (tar­get)?” says Alexey Rakhmanov, the suave English-speaking head of the United Ship­build­ing Cor­po­ra­tion, the gi­ant Rus­sian con­glom­er­ate that makes all of Rus­sian war­ships.

The mood in Sochi, ac­cord­ing to one In­dian official, was elec­tric. The heads of state were like long-lost friends. Things started mov­ing fast af­ter­wards. In just six months, India signed deals worth over $10 bil­lion with Rus­sia, in one case pay­ing up 40 per cent of the $3 bil­lion re­fur­bish­ment and lease of a nu­clear sub­ma­rine to be de­liv­ered in 2026.

Rus­sia to­day is India’s largest arms sup­plier, fol­lowed by the US, Is­rael and France. And it wants to re­tain its lead in the $250 bil­lion mod­erni­sa­tion pie. What’s help­ing its cause is New Delhi’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to use arms sales as a lever to max­imise for­eign pol­icy gains. Many of the defence deals are be­tween the two gov­ern­ments and hence driven from the very top by the PM’s Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­vi­sor Ajit Do­val. Another key fig­ure is Pankaj Saran, India’s en­voy to Moscow for three years un­til 2018, and now deputy NSA. Rus­sian firms, as their west­ern competitor­s have dis­cov­ered, can no longer be bumped out of defence deals as they were a few years ago. Agree­ments have pro­ceeded at sur­pris­ing speed.

South Block sliced through the red tape and the enor­mous pa­per work that ac­com­pa­nies joint ventures be­tween the two gov­ern­ments. The Indo-Rus­sia Ri­fles Pvt Ltd joint ven­ture, which will pro­duce the AK-203 at an Ord­nance Fac­tory Board plant in Korwa, Ame­thi, was set up within a month of it be­ing an­nounced by Modi in March this year. The project in the erst­while Gandhi fam­ily bas­tion was steered by what the Rus­sians call “firm po­lit­i­cal will at the high­est lev­els” and is one of the fastest to come up in the his­tory of re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries. The Rus­sian ri­fles that will equip the world’s sec­ond largest army

com­plete the prom­i­nent Rus­sian tilt. “There are deals worth $14 bil­lion in the pipe­line…which is quite huge,” says Vladimir Druzhzhov, deputy di­rec­tor of the Fed­eral Service of Mil­i­tary-Tech­ni­cal Co­op­er­a­tion (FSMTC), the apex agency over­see­ing Rus­sia’s arms trade. It’s hard to re­call such a mind-bog­glingly large arms pack­age in the hey­day of the for­mer Soviet Union, nor in the years fol­low­ing its break-up as Rus­sia hocked arms for hard cash. Rus­sia has al­ways had first mover ad­van­tage—nearly 60 per cent of India’s mil­i­tary hard­ware is of Soviet or Rus­sian ori­gin. Just three plat­forms, the Su-30 MKI, the T-72 bat­tle tanks and the Kilo class sub­ma­rine— make up the back­bone of the three ser­vices. Hard­ware like the T-90 tank, the AK-203 ri­fle and the Su-30MKI are far more cost-ef­fec­tive than their west­ern coun­ter­parts, and hence can be pro­cured in large numbers. Rus­sian cut­ting edge-tech­nol­ogy in cer­tain fields of­fers game-chang­ing ad­van­tages. The S-400 is as yet untested in com­bat, but IAF of­fi­cials who eval­u­ated the sys­tem over sev­eral years were impressed by its ca­pa­bil­i­ties. The IAF sees in the S-400 a solution to its woes of dwin­dling fighter jets. It has only 30 squadrons (each with 18 jets), way below its sanc­tioned strength of 39. Five S-400 sys­tems will plug an em­bar­rass­ing void in medium- or long-range sur­face-to-air mis­siles. In a shoot­ing war, the S-400 can guard In­dian air space, leav­ing IAF jets free to carry out of­fen­sive mis­sions.

In­dian of­fi­cials say Rus­sia not part­ing with any of the key S-400 tech­nolo­gies is an aber­ra­tion. “Rus­sia gives us the kind of tech­nol­ogy no other coun­try on earth will give us,” says a se­nior naval official. The nu­clear re­ac­tors of India’s Ari­hant class indige­nous bal­lis­tic mis­sile sub­marines have ben­e­fited from Rus­sian design val­i­da­tion. In the years ahead, Rus­sian as­sis­tance will be crit­i­cal in India’s quest to join another ex­clu­sive club— the five per­ma­nent mem­bers of the United Na­tions who have de­signed and built their own nu­clear-pow­ered at­tack sub­marines or SSNs. SSNs are fast mov­ing un­der­wa­ter bat­tle­ships with un­lim­ited en­durance and can at­tack tar­gets on land and at sea from un­der­wa­ter, us­ing tor­pe­does and mis­siles. India cur­rently has only one SSN, the INS Chakra, leased from Rus­sia in 2012. It plans to field a fleet of six SSNs by the be­gin­ning of the next decade.

The on­rush of In­dian or­ders has en­thused the gi­gan­tic

Rus­sian mil­i­tary-in­dus­trial com­plex. The Ad­mi­ralty Ship­yard in St Peters­burg, where a bulk of India’s con­ven­tional sub­marines were built, is one such place which sees a pos­si­ble re­turn to the Soviet Union era ‘Golden Age’. An­drey A. Ve­selov, deputy di­rec­tor of in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion at the yard, cir­cles his fin­gers to il­lus­trate the point. “His­tory,” he drawls, “de­vel­ops in spi­rals.” Another se­nior ex­ec­u­tive calls India “the kind of friend you could trust your wife with”. But there are im­pon­der­ables too. In­dian of­fi­cials have war­ily noted the grow­ing Sino-Rus­sian friend­ship. Both coun­tries re­cently launched co­or­di­nated pa­trols be­tween Ja­panese and South Korean airspace, de­ploy­ing lon­grange bombers. The Moscow-Bei­jing axis, as one gov­ern­ment official pithily puts it, has un­der­gone a role-re­ver­sal: “Rus­sia is now the ju­nior part­ner.” Where does that leave India? Vet­eran diplo­mat G. Parthasara­thy feels the Rus­sian outreach to China is tac­ti­cal in the face of US hos­til­ity. “Rus­sia sup­plies weapons to India and Viet­nam, who are both China’s ri­vals. Both, how­ever, are also courted by the US. Both want strate­gic au­ton­omy,” he says.


Any talk of US sanc­tions in­vokes vi­sions of the pe­riod af­ter the 1998 Pokha­ran nu­clear tests, when the US im­posed a full range of penal­ties against the In­dian mil­i­tary and sci­en­tific es­tab­lish­ment. In­dian scientists were even banned from vis­it­ing the US. India did not op­er­ate any Amer­i­can mil­i­tary plat­forms at the time, but the de­nial of even small items like US-made oil seals was enough to ground the navy’s en­tire fleet of UK-made Sea King chop­pers. A lot of wa­ter has flowed down the Po­tomac since then. Wash­ing­ton now sees India as a ma­jor global strate­gic part­ner, a coun­ter­bal­ance to a ris­ing China. For India too, the US is not a part­ner to be taken lightly. Rus­sian in­flu­ence is lim­ited to the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil. The US in­flu­ence spans mul­ti­lat­eral in­sti­tu­tions. New Delhi is also con­scious of US sup­port in help­ing it en­ter three key in­ter­na­tional bod­ies—the Mis­sile Tech­nol­ogy Con­trol Regime (MTCR), Wasse­naar Ar­range­ment and the Aus­tralia Group. Only a China-im­posed hold­out has pre­vented India’s en­try into the ex­clu­sive Nu­clear Sup­pli­ers Group (NSG) that de­cides nu­clear com­merce.

The US ire over the S-400 is also be­cause it feels the mis­sile sys­tem com­pro­mises po­ten­tial sales of its top-ofthe-line fighter air­craft like the F-35 to India. The stealth F-35’s radar sig­na­tures, US of­fi­cials say, can be pro­filed by

“INDIA LOOKS (AT TRUMP) AND WON­DERS, WHO’S NEXT?” Alexey Rakhmanov Pres­i­dent, United Ship­build­ing Cor­po­ra­tion “GIVEN THE PRE­VAIL­ING GEOPO­LIT­I­CAL UN­CER­TAIN­TIES, IT IS MOOT IF THE US WOULD WANT TO GO DOWN THIS PATH (OF SANC­TIONS)” Su­jan Chi­noy Di­rec­tor-gen­eral, In­sti­tute for Defence Stud­ies and Analy­ses

the S-400’s radars. New Delhi re­jected US counter-of­fers of PAC-3 and THAAD mis­siles, but is now at­tempt­ing to mol­lify Wash­ing­ton with a smaller off-the-shelf pur­chase of NASAMS-2, a mis­sile sys­tem de­signed to pro­tect the na­tional cap­i­tal from threats like drones and low-fly­ing air­craft. India also plans to buy US drones, mis­siles, he­li­copters and an­ti­sub­ma­rine air­craft worth $8 bil­lion (Rs 56,000 crore). Two US firms, Boe­ing and Lockheed Martin, are prime con­tenders for a $20 bil­lion deal to sup­ply the IAF with 110 jets. US sanc­tions, hence, ap­pear a highly un­likely course of ac­tion.

“The menu of sanc­tions un­der CAATSA ranges from de­nial of visas to per­sons party to the S-400 con­tract, to more se­vere ac­tion such as de­nial of mu­ni­tions li­cences to India,” says Su­jan Chi­noy, di­rec­tor-gen­eral of the MoD think-tank, In­sti­tute of Defence Stud­ies and Analy­ses (IDSA). “The lat­ter would mean the ces­sa­tion of all defence and strate­gic co­op­er­a­tion. Given the pre­vail­ing geopo­lit­i­cal un­cer­tain­ties, it is moot if the US would want to go down this path.”


One way out of the arms tan­gle would be for the In­dian mil­i­tary-in­dus­trial com­plex to achieve self-suf­fi­ciency in hard­ware. China, the world’s largest arms im­porter a decade ago, is to­day the world’s fifth largest arms ex­porter. Slow devel­op­ment cy­cles, an ar­chaic de­ci­sion-mak­ing process and the ab­sence of a long-term roadmap make it dif­fi­cult for India to achieve the goals of self-re­liance in defence hard­ware. Take, for in­stance, the tor­tur­ous devel­op­ment cy­cle of the Fu­ture In­fantry Com­bat Ve­hi­cle (FICV)—an ar­moured ve­hi­cle de­signed to take troops into bat­tle. The fully indige­nous PPP project, aimed at field­ing an indige­nous sys­tem to re­place the Soviet-ori­gin BMP-2, was mooted 13 years ago. To­day, even the first pro­to­type in the Rs 60,000 crore pro­posal is nowhere on the hori­zon. The MoD can­not de­cide on who will fund the first pro­to­type, cost­ing a measly Rs 800 crore. The gov­ern­ment’s am­bi­tious Make in India pro­gramme to in­dige­nously man­u­fac­ture arms has not taken off be­cause or­ders for plat­forms like the Ar­jun main bat­tle tanks and Te­jas Light Com­bat Air­craft have not been placed. While India is one of the top five spenders on defence glob­ally, rev­enue costs—what it pays as salaries and pen­sions—are eat­ing up a larger por­tion of the defence bud­get than cap­i­tal costs or the money set aside for hard­ware pur­chases.

For­mer navy chief Ad­mi­ral Arun Prakash says the out­look for the indige­nous arms in­dus­try is grim. The tra­di­tional re­flexes of arms de­pen­dency re­main an ob­sta­cle to India’s am­bi­tions of achiev­ing strate­gic au­ton­omy. As­sem­bling hun­dreds of air­craft and thou­sands of en­gines, tanks and mis­siles has not led to self-suf­fi­ciency. “We can (and must) use arms pur­chases for diplo­matic lever­age, but there should be an over­ar­ch­ing grand strat­egy for arms self-suf­fi­ciency which should use this lever for at­tain­ing self-suf­fi­ciency by, say, 2069—through ToT agree­ments, IPR vi­o­la­tions or what­ever it takes,” Prakash says. Clearly, un­til India un­veils a roadmap for self-suf­fi­ciency and sets down that path, arms tan­gles will be par for the course. ■


SHAKE ON THAT Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Putin wel­comes PM Modi in Sochi, May 21, 2018

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