Russia used to be the biggest arms supplier to India, and a reliable one at that. But over-pricing, among other issues, led to a sharp drop in its share of the lucrative market. Now Russia intends to claw its way back to the top over formidable U.S. and European competitors.
India was the world's largest buyer of arms from outside its borders in 2011, accounting for 10% of global arms imports.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin made a pitch for the joint development with India of defense equipment that could be sold to other countries during a visit to New Delhi last week.
“We want to move from basic trade to joint development projects with India in defense,” Rogozin says.
In talks with Indian authorities, 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,” says an Indian defense ministry official. “Joint development of the Fifth-Generation Fighter Aircraft and the Multi 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 presently underway in this area.”
India has also asked Russia to start inducting the 290-km-range (180-mi.) 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 Russians have ordered none as yet.
“Several issues continue to affect the India-Russia defense relationship,” the Indian 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.”
In the past 12 months, Russian arms manufacturing has faced a string of setbacks in India. Last year, its MiG-35 fighter lost the Medium Multirole Combat Aircraft competition to's . The $15 billion program is replacing the 's aging Russian MiG-21 fighter jets.
After the award to Dassault, Defense Minister A.K. Antony said the country's defense acquisition policy is 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,” he said.
The RussianMi-28N Night Hunter also lost a tender for 22 attack helicopters for the Indian military to 's Apache.
Nonetheless, analysts say Russia will remain India's major defense partner for the foreseeable future, given the legacy of defense cooperation and ongoing projects between the two. With increased competition for the Indian defense market, though, joint development and production of new weapon systems is likely to become a crucial factor in sustaining Indo-Russian cooperation in the coming years.