India and Russia. Long-Term Cooperation

By Leonid Nersisyan, military analyst.  

This year, the total export portfolio of the Russian military-industrial complex (MIC) reached a record 52–55 (estimates vary) billion dollars. At the same time, for many years Russia has been confidently taking the 2nd place in the global arms market by the sales volume after the USA. India, which is the largest importer of weapons in the world, as well as Russia's largest export market, has played an important part in it.


According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), in the period from 2011 to 2015, India accounted for 39% of Russian arms exports. And from 2000 to 2015, Moscow supplied to Delhi weapons worth $30 billion (with a contingent dollar exchange rate of 1990, greatly exceeding the present one). What has been done in recent years, and what are the prospects in the military-technical cooperation between the two countries? 

 Russia Has Always Supported the Concept of “Make in India” 

One of the reasons for the success of Russian arms in India was that Moscow has always been willing to work for “Make in India” concept, which Delhi has been promoting for many years. It is not a simple purchase of products (not necessarily only military ones), but the transfer of its production to India, as well as partial transfer of the production technology. This approach allows India to develop the industry and create new jobs, which are sorely lacking in the country. Meanwhile, the tiny, by world standards, cost of labor can also reduce the costs of production and save money. As for exporters – Delhi can afford to bargain from a position of strength (especially in the MIC), since it is always about the very large contracts. However, unlike Russia, not all countries are willing to work under such conditions. Combined with the fact that Russian weapons in most cases are much cheaper than Western ones, with some items Moscow succeeded to almost completely occupy the Indian market. 

 5th Generation Fighter FGFA Is the Major Russian-Indian Project 

Perhaps the most successful deal for the Russian MIC in India has been the sale of multi-role fighters Su-30MKI – a two-seat upgraded version of the Russian Su-27, designed specifically with consideration of the Indian requirements (as evidenced by the letter “I” in the index). Most of the aircraft, as well as the T-90 tanks, are assembled under license in India. India will pay almost $12 billion for a total of 272 units of the Su-30MKI. Currently, the Indian Air Force already own about 230 fighters of this type in service; the end of supply is expected in 2018–2019. 

The first contract for the supply of Su-30MKI, signed in 2002, in many ways helped to preserve the scientific and technological potential in the Russian military aircraft industry, and in particular the Sukhoi Design Bureau. Moreover, at the same time the modification of the Russian fighter Su-30SM has been created, which was praised by pilots. In recent years, these aircraft have been actively coming into service of the Russian Aerospace Forces. In addition, part of the proceeds went to the development of the Russian 5th generation fighter T-50 PAK FA (promising airborne complex of frontline aviation). It is this plane that forms the cornerstone for the future Russian military aircraft industry in the world arms market. And again, it is connected with India. 

The thing is that the export version of the PAK FA is created by Russia and India. This plane is called FGFA (Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft). Just like the Su-30, this machine is a two-seater – the Indian military prefer this approach, believing that two crew members can work better than one, especially when performing strike missions. The success of the FGFA project for the Russian MIC, and in particular the “United Aircraft Corporation” (UAC), is of paramount importance. Delhi plans to buy about 200 FGFA aircraft in the future. At the expected value of at least 100 million dollars per unit, the minimum UAC revenue will be $20 billion. And that's not taking into account the fact that the planes will need various types of weapons, service and spare parts, which will provide many defence companies with work orders for decades. 

However, works on FGFA do not go as smoothly as expected – in 2010 the Indian party signed a contract for the detailed design of the aircraft worth about $300 million, after which all further progress on the project has stalled. The Indian press published various rumors that a Russian fighter jet, according to the local military, did not correspond to the stated technical-tactical characteristics. At different times, the claims were presented to the AL-41F1 engine (insufficient thrust), radar capabilities and the technologies to reduce radar visibility of the aircraft. 

As it finally turned out, the problems were probably greatly exaggerated, since, according to the latest news, the next stage of works will soon be agreed upon, but the cost of the contract for research and development works (R&D) will be reduced by 40%. According to the available information, the parties agreed that Delhi and Moscow would invest 4 billion dollars in R&D. Furthermore, Delhi, through some hard bargaining, has also achieved an increase in the number of parts, which will be produced in India – now their share is approximately 40%, as opposed to the previously announced 25%. However, due to the depreciation of the ruble, the cost of R&D should not hit hard on the UAC, and the prospect of billions dollars of profits allows looking at the FGFA project optimistically. Plus, the Indian market is too vast not to take its requirements into consideration. One thing is for sure – if the Russian-Indian 5th generation fighter is created and purchased in the expected quantities, the UAC enterprises will have been loaded with orders until at least the early 2030s, which will allow to develop production and create new planes. 

 T-90 Tank Fully Occupied Indian Market 

In November 2016, it became known that the Government of India had approved signing of a new contract for the licensed production of 464 T-90MS tanks, the most modern modification of the vehicle, while Delhi became the launch customer for this tank. The contract value was approximately $2 billion, so, respectively, each T-90MS will cost the Indian budget at $4.3 million – almost twice as much as the previous modification of the T-90S (it costs $2.5 million). In total, India will receive 2121 T-90 tanks by both the previous contracts (1657 T-90S units) and the new agreement. This amount exceeds that of all other countries taken together (in Russia, for example, there are about 500 T-90 of various modifications). 

The success of T-90, which has almost completely taken over the Indian market, can be explained by several reasons. First, it is the price that even for the newest T-90MS is markedly lower than that of its competitors. The Western tanks cost 6.8 million dollars depending on the model and configuration. The cost of an Indian “Arjun” tank turned out to be about the same. Secondly, the weight of the T-90 is much lower than that of the Western tanks (due to the fact that an automatic loading device is installed in the Russian tanks instead of the fourth crew member), increasing its mobility and cross-country capability, which is very important in the Indian landscape. This is how the Indian military motivate the rejection of purchases of “Arjun” – it weighs a little less than 60 tons (T-90 weighs 46–48 tons, depending on version) and has problems with the reliability of track assembly. And thirdly, with the help of the Uralvagonzavod experts in India, a company has been created to assemble and manufacture some of the components of T-90. 

Contracts for the supply of T-90 to India allow Russia to retain about 56% of world sales of new tanks. As for the future of the “armored” prospects – a lot will depend on the success of the project to create a new generation of the T-14 tanks on the heavy tracked “Armata” platform. In terms of costs, the T-14 is already comparable to Western armor, but if they are to achieve the stated performance characteristics, they will definitely be worth the money. At the moment, a pilot batch of 100 vehicles has already been ordered for the Russian army, which may imply that the tank really goes the way it was supposed to – with the “Afganit” active protection system that can shoot down even the approaching armor-piercing projectiles, as well as with the modern system fire control, powerful engine, etc. 

 India Bought Russian Frigates Left Without Russian Engines 

The Ukrainian crisis, which began in 2014, led to the fact that Kiev, in spite of the heavy reliance of its military industrial complex on the Russian market, broke the military-technical cooperation with Russia. For Moscow, this situation was unpleasant, as many of the components for military equipment produced in Ukraine ever since the Soviet times had been purchased and installed on Russian products. However, Russian MIC was able to cope with the replacement of most of the components pretty quickly – gas turbine power plants for the Project 11356 frigates, built for the Russian Black Sea Fleet, became the only exception. Only three power plants were delivered for a series of six ships, so the first three ships were successfully built, and two frigates are still “twisting in the wind” without engines (one more was never laid down).  

Delhi did not mind the purchase of these vessels, especially considering that the country had previously bought very similar products in Russia. The frigates of Project 1135.6 “Talwar” are precursors of the project 11356 and have been developed specifically for India in the early 1990s, after which Delhi bought six of these ships. Successful design of the ship motivated the Russian military to order a series of similar vessels for the Russian Navy. Delhi now purchased two unfinished ships (they will be finished in Russia), as well as two new ones that have to be built in India in the framework of “Make in India” program. Ukraine has agreed to supply engines to India. The big plus is the fact that the ships will be equipped with anti-ship missiles (ASM) “BrahMos” (export version of the missile P-800 “Oniks”, designed specifically for the requirements of India). This line of ASM will soon be installed on the Su-30MKI, and in the future even FGFA. With regard to the naval theme – there were other large projects here: Delhi received a Russian aircraft carrier “Vikramaditya” (modernized heavy aircraft carrying cruiser “Admiral Gorshkov” from the Russian Navy). And a light aircraft carrier “Vikrant” (very similar to the “Vikramaditya”) is being built together with the Nevskoe DB. 

 Russia and India Signed an Agreement for at Least Another $6 billion 

During the last visit of the President of Russia Vladimir Putin to India in the framework of the BRICS summit, a number of new defense agreements was signed with India, the total amount of which is estimated at $6–8 billion. One of them we have already discussed earlier – the Project 11356 frigates. In addition to this important deal, agreements have been signed on the supply of four battalions of the advanced Russian long-range anti-aircraft missile systems S-400, a joint production of 200 multi-role Ka-226T helicopters (with an option for another 200 aircraft), as well as leasing another nuclear submarine of project 971 “Shchuka-B” (in 2012, the K-152 “Nerpa” submarine was leased to India for a period of 10 years for 900 million dollars). Most probably, India will have a nuclear submarine K-322 “Kashalot” delivered, which will be modernized in accordance with the requirements of Delhi, including equipment with “BrahMos” submarine anti-ship missiles. 

 Stronger Competition in the Indian Market  

May we assume that the military-technical cooperation between Russia and India is perfect, and Moscow does not face virtually any complexities? Not necessarily. All the major exporters of weapons are actively seeking to infiltrate the “alluring” Indian market. Some even manage to boost competition – the USA and France significantly increased their share in the Indian market, largely due to the weakness of the Russian proposals for some items. For example, a MMRCA tender (Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft) was held in India, the winner of which was to deliver 126 light fighters. Russian MiG-35, which is a deep modernization of the MiG-29 and exists, in fact, on paper only, was not even considered seriously, having been out-grossed by the French Rafale fighter. However, the Indian government eventually purchased only 36 such aircraft, as the French gunsmiths revised the price, having driven it higher than that of the heavy Su-30MKI, and refused to provide the required volume of production technology. Thus, the Delhi's need for a light fighter is still there, but even now Russia has nothing special to offer – the MiG-35 is too expensive for a light fighter (largely due to the use of two engines), and there is no alternative to it. 

Another problem project is the MTA (Multi-Role Transport Aircraft) – tactical military transport aircraft, which had to replace more than 100 legacy transport planes An-32 of the Indian Air Force, as well as the An-12, An-26, and An-72 of the Russian Aerospace Forces. The project promised great profits and huge volume of production, but the parties had been faced with a lack of understanding even before a single prototype was made “in metal”. In 2015, India officially left the project. Judging by the publications in the media, the main problem was the differences between the parties regarding the engine of the aircraft – Russia offered to install the latest modification of the time-tested PS-90, while India demanded the development of a completely new engine, fitted with a full authority digital engine control (FADEC), which provides minimum fuel consumption. This loss is very annoying for UAC, because the MTA was needed by the Russian Aerospace Forces as well, and the economic crisis hampers the ability to create a machine with no external funding. Although, maybe this project is still waiting for a new round of negotiations, especially given the fact that India does not have many potential options – it has to purchase either a rather expensive American C-130, which is unlikely to be allowed to assemble in India, or a very bad European A-400M. 

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