Sunday, 15 April 2018

Russia rues its declining role as arms supplier to India

Sitharaman ignores Russian stalls in her Defexpo “walkabout”

By Ajai Shukla
Chennai
Business Standard, 15th Apr 18

For years, Russian equipment and defence firms were the highlight of Indian Defexpo and Aero India shows. After live displays, mainly featuring Russian aircraft, helicopters and armoured vehicles, the crowds would throng the glitzy, neon-lit Russian exhibits where executives in lightweight suits and improbably long-legged lady receptionists politely fielded the buzz surrounding the next big Russian contract.

Few would have predicted how quickly change has come. On Wednesday, after opening Defexpo 2018, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, in a swarm of subordinates and bodyguards, was touring the exhibits in Hall 1, where the big Russian exhibitors and Israeli defence vendors were arrayed opposite each other. Senior Russian officials recount that Sitharaman turned abruptly to the Israeli firms – Israel Aerospace Industries, Rafael and Elbit Systems – and strolled past without bothering to even look at a single Russian exhibit.

Russian attempts to engage her attention were blocked by the guards around her.

“This is what the India-Russia defence relationship has come to. India’s political environment is no longer that friendly to Russia”, says a top Russian executive.

He ruled out a suggestion that Sitharaman’s snub might have been inadvertent. “A defence minister prepares for an event like Defexpo. She has assistants and advisors, who guide her along. It was deliberate”, he declared.

Contacted by email for confirmation, the defence ministry has not responded.

Only later in the day were the Russians placated, when the navy chief, Admiral Sunil Lanba and other senior admirals visited the navy-related Russian exhibits.

Russia remains India’s largest arms supplier, but its share is dwindling rapidly. A report last month from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute states that, in the five-year period 2013 to 2017, India sourced 62 per cent of its defence imports from Russia. That was down from 79 per cent in the previous five-year period.

A key reason for Russia’s decline was evident at Defexp: India’s frustration at the low serviceability of Russian equipment and the shortage of spares. An India-Russia Military Industrial Conference held at DefExpo 2018 focused on “improvement of after-sales support of Russian origin defence platforms being exploited by Indian defence forces and also to facilitate domestic manufacturing of some of the identified spare parts…”, India’s defence ministry announced.

The seven memoranda of understanding signed between Indian private firms and Russian OEMs were all aimed at ensuring the smooth supply of spares and assemblies for Russian-origin weaponry already in service in the Indian military.

A veteran Russian defence industry technocrat, who has supplied arms to India since Soviet Union days, says that Indian attitudes towards arms purchases had changed dramatically. In earlier times, the Soviet Union sold cheap, rugged and unsophisticated equipment – which was all India could afford anyway.

“Now India has progressed. It can buy expensive and sophisticated weaponry and it is no longer content with cheap, rugged Russian arms. But, even though India’s military still has high regard for Russian arms, New Delhi’s political attitude to Moscow has changed”, he says.

“Moscow sold weaponry to India on a friendship basis, at friendship prices. But India now wants Russia to compete in open global tenders. Fine! We will also deal with India on a purely commercial basis then,” says a Russian company chief executive.

In any such conversation with Russians, India’s “growing closeness with America” quickly bubbles to the surface. But when countered with the charge that Moscow too has come closer to Pakistan and China, the Russians quickly interrupt.

“There is no friendship in those relationships, like there is with India. Moscow engages Islamabad in order to have a handle on the Taliban. And China shares a long border with Russia. Every country deals with its immediate neighbours on a special basis”, claims the veteran Russian technocrat.

When we point out that India and Russia cooperate on projects that no other country does – for example, in designing and building INS Arihant, the nuclear missile submarine, and the lease of INS Chakra, a Russian nuclear propelled submarine – the Russians bitterly point at India’s “backtracking” on conventional submarines under Project 75-I.

“In 1999, India’s 30-year submarine programme decided to build six western-origin and six Russian-origin submarines. India bought the first six Scorpene submarines from France, but where is the contract for the other six? India wants Russia to compete with western shipyards in an open tender to build six boats equipped with “air-independent propulsion”. Why is India not giving Russia the order for the next six [submarines]?” says the Russian executive.

The Russians also point to long-standing inter-governmental agreements that have been languishing for years – specifically naming the deals to co-develop the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft, build Kamov-226T light helicopters and buy the S-400 long range ground to air missile system.

“Countries with genuine security problems buy simple, rugged weaponry. Rich countries, which maintain ‘trophy militaries’, buy sophisticated costly kit that may or may not work in war. India faces real threats. It should not forget its longstanding Russian friendship”, he concludes. 

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Does not make any sense. We fly all russian jet fighters (MiG-29 and Su-27 variants) , we are buying more Mi-17, we plan to manufacture kA-226, AK-103. Buy S-400, 4 destroyers. What else can be done ?
A political article.

Anonymous said...

If true, then this snub by Sitharaman was uncalled for and a stupid thing to do. No point in insulting someone, whether or not you intend to do business with them. It is quite possibly an inadvertent blunder .... our politicians and bureaucrats are all to capable of such.

I suppose several factors have led to the deterioration in the arms sales relationship. After the fall of the Soviet Union the quality and availability of Russian spare parts more or less collapsed. Indians realized that they were dealing with an unstable state, incapable of maintaining its own military let alone support them. Second, the Gorshkov/Vikramaditya fiasco - cost escalations of hundreds of millions of Dollars, delays of several years, the honey-trapping of the Indian naval officer in charge of the re-fit by the Russians and now the abysmal availability of the MiG 29Ks - proved a major fall from grace for Russian arms. In contrast, the Indians have seen the quality, timely delivery and serviceability of US weapons systems they have procured for themselves and probably concluded that the money is better spent on these. It is all good to blame the change in Indian political sensitivities, but the Russians must ask themselves what their own role has been in the deterioration of the relationship.

Anonymous said...

Long gone are the days of the Indo Soviet friendship treaty, but must not be forgotten that the Soviet Union/Russia has stood by India in all its wars.
The Russians are justified in feeling humiliated at the rebuff by our Defence Minister. It’s disgraceful that she did not offer even a smile and a wave, or a brief five minute chat with our old friends the Russians.
Modi is more enamoured by the USA and Europe, many NRI ultra nationalist Bhakts live in these countries who organise rapturous welcomes, (now that his visa has been reinstated) when he visits.
Russian S-400 Systems in numbers, is what India needs instead of expensive fighters which will offer more bang for the buck. These can deployed at whatever China at present throws at us. They can also be deployed against nuclear missiles. The Russians have also their excellent jamming systems to consider. Russian air defence is 2nd to none. We should disband many of our useless Second World War Army divisions, using the money for air defence. India does not have the wherewithal to go on the offensive any time soon.

Ashish said...

What bullshit from the Russians. They fleece worse than others and their services are always delayed

Anonymous said...

this is childish approach by the russians you spoke to....they have the contracts with the highest value and a very healthy and strong pipeline like S400, KA226T and SSN + frigates. these are all part of IGA which means contracts will happen one day. also Mi-17V5 repeat orders. even if they don't get FGFA these 3 or 4 itself will be more than what US or french can expect. yes for sure they will not win IAF or IN fighter competition. they have a very good case for P75i though.

Anonymous said...

“Countries with genuine security problems buy simple, rugged weaponry”.
How true, only prolonged war will prove what weapons we need as the exact nature of our future adversary and his capability is unclear.
It’s the unknown unknowns and the Black Swans that can never ever be anticipated, this is more particular to India with its own future so uncertain. Will our expensive toys ever be money well spent? Is the threat is internal or external. What are the forces that will destabilise India.

Anonymous said...

A really bad idea in my opinion. Russians ae the 'Old Faithful' in terms of the support they provide and the technologies they share. No other country will be willing to share the technology they did for a nuclear submarine (during Arihant) and joint development of the most lethal cruise missile in the world-Brahmos! The Americans cannot be trusted.. Their policies are purely selfish.. Now that they've messed up Pakistan fully and have learned Pak is almost 'owned' by China, they started looking towards India as their next cash cow and a tool to counter China in South Asia.. Not to forget the fact that the US sent their carrier battle group to aid Pakistan during Indo-Pak war and only the Russians came to our aid at the right time so that their carriers could not advance further.
While the Gov't is pushing for the latest technologies and leaning towards West, it should not be at the cost of trust & and friendly ties that has lasted long. The delays & issues with service/aftersales of Russian systems maybe resolved with the help of dialogues local licenced manufacturing..

j.Sashi bhushan Bhushan said...

They shouldn't have taken India for granted common they where their best customer without service that too in these times

Anonymous said...

NSR says --

I have a Ph. D. and worked in space and defense industry for a long time so I wish to add my 2 cents worth opinion...

India and Russia are friends and strategic partners for 70+ years...
Russia saved India many times including in 1971 when all the western powers are streaming towards Arabian sea and Bay of Bengal...

However, the relationship has deteriorated in last two decade or so due to the economic and political, and geopolitical developments...

India supported strongly the armament industries in Russia when no one was buying their products...
Russia has forgotten this and denied all the promises of TOT it made to India - T-90S, Smerch, SUm-MKI (272 of it), Migs (we bought more than 1000 of various kinds), ships, radars, air and missile defenses, etc...

Russia is under the thumbs of China...
It no longer has an independent foreign policy, especially when it comes to India...

After suffering for many years of terrorism in Chechnya, Dagestan, and countless bombings, Russia has forgotten about the continuing suffering of India due to terrorism emanating from Pakistan and even supporting and encouraging their bad behavior...

Russia is at the red line or already crossed red line by unnecessary support to Pakistan on terrorism and ignoring India's protestations...
Russia is also supplying arms to Pakistan and it breaks the strategic partnership rules...

India is buying from others because Russia is and was not responsive about spares and TOTs and it is impacting availability of armaments...

Russia is unduly prolonging the critical projects like Ka-226T, S-400. aircraft TOT, diesel submarine TOT, etc

I suspect that RM SItharaman was cold shouldered on all these projects when she visited
Russia recently...
The feisty RM must have paid back on same coin in the presence of whole world...

I think India and even Russia sorely miss Ambassador Kadakin...
His shoes are too big for the present Ambassador ...

I hope that Russia realizes the issues and solutions quickly and rights the Stratecgic Partnership path immediately for the benefits of Indian and Russian people...
Russia badly needs friends too...Just not India...

So I hope that Russian Ambassador goes to task immediately...

Thank you USSR for saving India numerous times..Ball is definitely in their court...
Releasing TOT so India can build spares for T-90S. Smerch, SU-30MKI, Migs, etc is a right and first good step they can take...

God bless Russian people and government for such a magnanimous acts...
Many Indians still remember those deeds...

Thank you

Anonymous said...

NSR says --- Part 2...

India bought 1000+ Migs and Mig-21s are famously nicknamed flying coffin...
India bought 272 SU-30MKIs...


Many countries are getting TOT at some level...
Even Turkey getting F-35 TOT at some level..

Russia selling all the high tech armaments to China - S-400, SU-35, SU-27, etc
They stay silent when China copies the technology and builds their own version...
It tells the whole world that they are under China thumb...
Russia already delivered S-400 and SU-35 on expedited basis...

Russia keeps India waiting on S-400 and SU-30MKI upgrade to Super Sukhois..

We paid for the development of Mig-29K and SU-30MKI and deserve the full TOT...
We paid with the blood of hundreds of pilots in those flying coffins and for buying 1000+ of Migs India deserves to receive the full TOT...
We paid and bought large numbers of T-90S and Smerch with the promise of TOT and so Russia must deliver...

I think the very best solution for India and Russia is like Brahmos version of projects from now onwards ...
India and Russia will invest 50:50 and reap 50:50 IPRs and TOTs, and of course the profits from selling to other countries...
India has great technical talent and they can service these systems world wide...

India saved Russia when USSR got dismantled..
India and Russia can save both by coming up with an equitable agreement like Brahmos...

A considered agreement will help both countries in future weapons like -
SU-30MKI-Super Sukhois, SU-35, SU-57, T-14Armata, Air and Missile defense, ships, submarines, etc

Ball is firmly in the Russian court...

I hope that some Russians reads it and contemplates about the important relationship deeply and comes up with their own ideas...

Anonymous said...

NSR says --- Part 3

We can build better Frigates in India than what Russia trying to sell India...
We are in very urgent need of Minesweepers so Russia should push those on India...
We are in urgent need of Naval Multi Role helicopters so Russia should try to offer generous terms on them and get business..

India should award 6 (3 in Russia+3 in India) latest advanced Kilo+ Amur+ Kalinin class diesel submarines if they can let India include its AIP in them...
If Russia can do it, then it would be good for both...
Also, Russians deserves this concession as they stuck with us so many years and even leased all important Nuke submarines...No one in the world will do it...

If Russia parts with T-90S TOT, then India must consider ordering some T-14 Armatas so it will send chills down the spines of Pakistan
It will also calm Russia and get back on good terms...

I think the best solution is Joint design, development, manufacturing, and marketing of advanced armaments on 50:50 basis so that both benefits in the long run...

Otherwise, Russia will end up losing Indian market due to indigenous and foreign arms...

There are not that many friends for both of them...

Thank you....

John Jennings said...

I'm not well-informed enough to weigh in either on India's strategic needs (undoubtedly a matter of debate among Indians themselves) or the technological pros & cons of the weapons systems discussed. But the Russian executive quoted at the end made a compelling argument:
“Countries with genuine security problems buy simple, rugged weaponry. ... India faces real threats. It should not forget its longstanding Russian friendship”.
If I were y'all, I wouldn't risk Delhi's special relationship with Russia over a wanton fling with a fickle, indeed almost schizophrenic US.
Maybe I just watch too much RT. [RT stands for Russian Troll, right?] But the current foam-flecked US Russophobia looks either delusional or profoundly cynical: Conveniently timed, unverifiable 'chemical attacks' are a nifty way to draw attention from domestic difficulties.
That may change. I doubt Trump has had a real change of heart regarding Syria, or Russia, or NATO. But he's surrounded himself with neocon hawks whom he's clearly reluctant to overrule.
I think MOD officials should explain to Admiral Davidson et al. that they're keenly interested in enhanced 'partnership,' but have no wish to be seen taking sides in a mindless Great Power confrontation that could start WW3.
In fact, I'd condition greater India-US military 'partnership' on dramatically improved US-Russia relations - including good-faith efforts to address Russia's many concerns about US adventurism within its sphere of influence.
Thanks much, keep up the good work.