Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar will leave for Moscow and St. Petersburg Friday, October 30 to finalize two defense deals part of an over Rs 12,000 crore (over $1.8 billion USD) to acquire new equipment that was just approved by the Defense Acquisitions Council (DAC). This comes ahead of the planned December visit by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Russia and is also believed will help set the agenda for that future event. Additionally, it is reported that both countries will sign an agreement on Russia leasing another nuclear-powered submarine to India this December.
Some of the planned defense spending is meant to bridge gaps in the combat capabilities of the Indian Armed Forces. While India has a thriving indigenous defense industry, it has been beset by numerous problems which have served to seriously set back projects far beyond planned deadlines. As a result, New Delhi is increasingly forced to turn to external sources such as Russia for hardware. An overwhelming majority of India’s military equipment is sourced from Russia, either built there or domestically produced in India under license. Additionally, apart from the acquisition of weaponry and technology, a number of advanced projects between both countries are currently in advanced stages. Without a doubt, the India-Russia defense relationship is of great importance to the Russian economy and India’s armed forces.
Approved Defense Deals
Two major military purchases are expected to be finalized in Moscow in the coming days while discussions are expected on a variety of other possible future deals. The two deals with Russia involve an upgrade of India’s aerial fleet of Russian-designed transports and tankers and the purchase of new infantry combat vehicles (IFVs). In addition, the DAC also approved the acquisition of two more multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) regiments, new multi-purpose vessels for the navy and an upgrade to existing surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems. According to unnamed defense sources, some of the acquisition projects are intended to “overcome hollowness” in the Indian Armed Forces.
Deals with Russia
The larger of the deals worth Rs 4,250 crore is for a wide range of improvements to the Ilyushin Il-78 aerial refueling tankers and Il-76 (Candid) strategic transports of the Indian Air Force (IAF). In addition to enhanced avionics, the fleet will receive various upgrades extending their service life by 20 years. On the receiving end of most improvements are the IAFs Il-87s which will be fitted with new engines to help increase their range in addition to other modifications that will allow for greater fuel loads. It is likely the new engines will be PS 90 power plants that will provide enough lifting thrust to increase the load carrying ability of each aircraft by almost two tons.
The IAF has 14 Il-76 transports, three Il-76s fitted for AWAC (Airborne Warning and Control System) duties, three Il-76s deployed by the Aviation Research Center and six Il-78 tankers. For over two years, the IAF has failed to finalize a deal with European aircraft manufacturer Airbus to provide six new generation tankers under the Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) project. With no progress being made on that deal due to pricing issues, the planned modernization of the IAFs existing tankers will at the least provide a stop-gap measure until new aircraft can be procured.
The second deal with Russia concerns the acquisition of 149 BMP-2 IFVs for the army at a cost of Rs 924 crore. The decision to purchase these IFVs came as a result of an amendment to the “acceptance of necessity” (AoN) that was originally granted for Indian licensed production by the Ordnance Factory Board of 363 of the same IFVs.
Earlier this month, due to over five years of delays in the Future ICV (FICV) program, the Indian Army made clear its intention to accelerate the upgrade of 1,000-1,200 aging license-built BMP-2/2K “Sarath” IFVs to BMP-2M standard through the enhancement of their armament and fitting of more powerful engines. The FICV program has been beset by problems, one of them being its restriction to domestic companies and the eventual realization that foreign collaboration is necessary in several areas.
Several projects not involving Russia have also been approved by the DAC. The Indian Army will add two additional Pinaka MLRS regiments (each regiment has 18 Pinaka launchers and associated systems) at a cost of Rs 3,306 crore to boost its medium-range, high volume firepower. Manufactured by the Indian companies Tata and Larsen & Toubro (L&T), each Pinaka rocket can carry a 100kg payload to a maximum range of 40 kilometers.
The Indian Navy will replace its aging ocean-going tug force with four new 3,500 ton multi-purpose vessels at a total cost of Rs 2,800 crore. The existing Rs 1,500 crore plan to acquire two deep-submergence rescue vessels (DSRVs) has also been extended. These DSRVs will provide the navy with the ability to affect rescue missions of stricken submarines at deep depths and the acquisition of them has been in the planning stage for well over a decade though little progress has been made. Discussed later, the increasing frequency of reliability and safety problems in India’s submarine fleet make the need for DSRVs all the more apparent.
Additionally, Rs 1,800 has been budgeted to the “digitization” of 25 units of its ageing three-decades old Soviet-era Pechora SAM systems. This upgrade will extend the lifespan of the system by another decade and will see the replacement of existing analogue systems with digitized processors and data-links among other systems. The Indian Air Force intends to replace the Pechora with the final product of the now $2 billion USD Indo-Israeli Medium Range SAM (MRSAM) project which has been beset by repeated delays and initial test failures.
Possible Future Deals with Russia
While Parrikar’s Moscow visit will see the finalization of the two approved deals, it is expected that other possible future defense procurement deals will be discussed. These include utility helicopters, the lease of a nuclear submarine, two new diesel submarines and advanced SAM systems. On Thursday, Parrikar said in an interview with Russian state-owned TASS “..the project for joint production of Kamov Ka-226 helicopters. I hope to use my visit to have it inked on paper when the prime minister arrives. Also the purchase of S-400 missile systems. We anticipate these projects to be coordinated by next month.”
India has expressed its intention to purchase Russian Kamov Ka-226 helicopters and establish domestic facilities for license-built production of them. Anatoly Isaykin, head of Rosoboronexport (Russia’s intermediary agency for defense-related exports) told reporters earlier this week “According to the results of the tender, the Indian side is interested in purchasing Ka-226 helicopters and also in establishing domestic production facilities. The Russian side is ready to transfer these technologies to India.” The Ka-226 is a multi-mission helicopter that will be specially modified with a new engine for Indian requirements, primarily high-altitude operations along the Himalayan borders.
The Indian Navy currently operates nine Russian-designed and built Kilo-class diesel electric attack submarines known in India as the Sindhughosh-class. Earlier