NEW DELHI — Russia is drawing up plans to claw its way back to the top of the Indian defense market, which is supplemented by the U.S. and other European suppliers.
Russia was at one time the biggest arms supplier to India and has been a reliable vendor since the Cold War era. But due to several commercial issues including overpricing, Russia rapidly lost the defense pie in the South Asian nation. In 2011, India was the world’s largest recipient of arms, accounting for 10% of global arms imports.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, during his visit to New Delhi on July 17, advocated for the joint development of defense equipment with India that could be sold to other countries.
“We wants to move from basic trade to joint development projects with India in defense,” Rogozin says.
During his talk with India authorities in New Delhi, Rogozin expressed keen interest in joint ventures for the production of cargo and passenger aircraft.
“The BrahMos missile system is a shining example of this type of cooperation. Joint development of the Fifth-Generation Fighter and the Multirole Transport Aircraft, as well as the licensed production in India of Su-30 aircraft and T-90 tanks, are other examples of flagship cooperation programs that are currently under way in this area,” an Indian defense ministry official says.
India has also asked Russia to start inducting the 290-km-range BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles into its naval fleet. The two sides formed a joint venture to produce the supersonic cruise missile in 1998, and since then all three wings of the Indian armed forces have ordered BrahMos for their inventory. But the Russian side has yet to do so.
“Several issues . . . continue to affect the India-Russia defense relationship,” the official says. “There have been repeated delays in Russia implementing major weapon orders, including for the aircraft carrier, Admiral Gorshkov. Russia has also tended to raise costs midway through the execution of agreed-upon commitments. Roadblocks have also emerged for the transfer of technology and the uninterrupted supply of defense spares.”
Over the past 12 months, Russian arms manufacturers have faced a string of setbacks in India. Last year, Russia’s MiG-35 fighter lost India’s Medium Multirole Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) competition to’s . The $15 billion program is replacing the aging Russian MiG-21 fighter jets currently used by the .
Other losers in the competition were theF-16IN Super Viper and /F Super Hornet, the and the JAS-39NG .
Defense Minister A.K. Antony said after the winner was declared that the country’s defense acquisition policy was guided by professional and not political considerations. “India’s defense purchases are not propelled by political considerations and all vendors will get a level playing field,” Antony said.
The Russian Mi-28N Night Hunter also lost a tender for 22 attack helicopters for the Indian military to Boeing’sApache.
Nonetheless, analysts say that given the two countries’ legacy of defense cooperation and ongoing projects, Russia will remain India’s major defense partner for the foreseeable future. However, in view of the increased competition for the Indian defense market, joint development and production of new weapon systems is likely to become a crucial factor in sustaining Indo-Russian cooperation in the coming years.