India Turns To Russia For Mega Defence Deals

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New Delhi: After a pronounced tilt towards the US in terms of defence deals and military-to-military ties over the last decade, further reinforced by the recent inking of the bilateral logistics pact , India has reassured Russia that their traditional strategic partnership will continue on its upward trajectory.

Defence ministry sources said negotiations for mega defence projects with Russia like joint development of the futuristic fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) and Kamov Ka-226T light utility helicopters were “well on track” after being stalled for some time.

Similarly, major defence deals with Russia, ranging from the Rs 39,000 crore acquisition of five S-400 Triumf advanced air defence missile systems to the $1.5 billion lease of a second nuclear-powered submarine, are also in the offing.

India already operates a nuclear-powered Akula-II submarine christened INS Chakra, which was acquired on a 10-year lease from Russia in April 2012 under a $900 million deal inked earlier.

All this is reflected in the flurry of top-level bilateral meetings to be held in the coming days. The 16th meeting of the India-Russia Military Technical Cooperation Working Group, for instance, will be held on Wednesday and Thursday.

The Indian delegation will be led by the director-general of defence acquisitions in the meeting, which will include the inking of a joint protocol. Concurrently , the two countries will also hold a top meeting on shipbuilding, aviation and land systems, which will be co-chaired by the defence production secretary from India. The fine balance India is trying to strike between the two erstwhile Cold War rivals is also evident in the way the Indian Army will hold combat exercises with US and Russian forces this month.

 The ‘Yudh Abhyas’ exercise between US troops from Fort Louis and Madras Regiment soldiers will be held at Chaubatia in Uttarakhand from September 14 to 27. The ‘Indra’ exercise between Russian soldiers and Kuma on Regiment troops will be held at Vladivostok from September 22 to October 2.

After Indian, US and Japanese warships conducted the top-notch Malabar exercise off Okinawa in June, India and Russia will hold their Indra naval wargames in the Indian Ocean around December.

Russia was worried whether India wanted to continue complex projects like the FGFA. We have expressed our keenness to ink the final R&D design contract for the Indian ‘perspective multi-role fighter’ (based on the Russian FGFA called Sukhoi T-50 or PAK-FA) in 2016-2017,” said a source.

India, however, has conveyed that it is not interested in the proposed joint development of the multi-role transport aircraft (MTA) due to the twin-engine plane’s cost-viability, delivery timelines and failure to meet high-altitude requirements.

But Russia has taken heart from India’s positive response on other projects, and has even offered its under-construction nuclear-powered aircraft carrier ‘Storm’ (Shtorm) and technologies associated with the project.

TOI had earlier reported that the US was currently unwilling to offer help to India in nuclear propulsion for the proposed construction of its largest-ever warship, the 65,000-tonne aircraft carrier INS Vishal. In effect, the US-Russia rivalry to woo India in the military arena continues.

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