By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 16th Oct 16
The 17th India-Russia Annual Summit in Goa on Saturday illustrated Moscow’s continuing clout as a pre-eminent defence partner for India. Amongst the summit highlights was a multi-billion dollar agreement for three-four Krivak-III frigates to add to the six that the Indian Navy already operates; an agreement to strengthen India’s air defence with the vaunted S-400 Triumf long-range air defence system; and a “shareholders agreement” for a joint venture (JV) to build the Kamov-226T helicopter in India.
Given the India Navy’s growing profile in the Indian Ocean, regional states will take note of the purchase of three Krivak-III (also called Grigorivich-class, or Project 1135.6) stealth warships from Russia. These are improved variants of the six Talwar-class frigates, built by Russia, in Yantar Shipyard at Kaliningrad, on the Baltic Sea, and supplied to India between 2003-13.
Russia’s Yantar Shipyard has six Grigorivich-class frigates under construction, but Moscow can no longer afford them, given the pressure on its finances from low oil prices and sustained economic sanctions from the West over Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the Indian Navy faces a worrying shortfall of warships, operating just about 140 warships against the 198 vessels that the maritime capability perspective plan envisages by 2027. With domestic warship building capacity strained, the navy’s attention has been caught by Russia’s offer to deliver the warships (already half-built) within 2½ years of a contract. And with fleet logistics already catering for the Talwar-class, additional ships of the type will not complicate logistics.
The relatively small, stealthy 4,000-tonne Russian multi-role frigates pack a considerable punch. Navy sources indicate they will be fitted with the Brahmos surface-to-surface missile for attacking land targets and ships; a significant capability improvement over the Klub missile carried by the first six Talwar-class frigates. Like the earlier versions, they will be fitted with Shtil anti-air missiles, naval guns and rockets, and torpedoes for sinking enemy submarines. They will even have torpedo launchers, like the ones being retro-fitted into the larger Indian Shivalik-class frigates, which displace 5,600 tonnes.
The other important decision on Saturday was the inter-government agreement for India to buy the S-400 Triumf mobile surface to air missile system (M-SAM), Russia’s latest and most vaunted air defence system.
The deal for five S-400 units is expected to cost India around Rs 30 – 35,000 crore, but the final price tag remains to be negotiated.
The Triumf system (NATO countries call it the SA-21 Growler) can detect an incoming ballistic missile at a range of 600 kilometres and shoot it down when it is still 230 km away, and 185 km above the earth. Fighter aircraft can be engaged and neutralised when they are still 400 km away.
While Russia has supplied the bulk of India’s ageing tactical air defence systems, this would be the first time India has bought a strategic air defence platform. Washington’s offer to supply the highly-regarded Patriot PAC-III system was not taken up by New Delhi.
The S-400 is currently in service only with the Russian military, but has also been contracted by China. Until the DRDO’s indigenous anti-missile umbrella comes on stream, the S-400 would provide a certain anti-ballistic missile (ABM) shield to cities like Delhi and Mumbai.
As Business Standard predicted on Friday, a tripartite “shareholders agreement” for a joint venture (JV) to build the Kamov-226T helicopter was signed in Goa between Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL); Russian Helicopters; and defence export agency, Rosoboronexport.
According to an Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA), signed in Moscow during the 16th Annual Summit last December, India will buy 200 Kamov-226T light helicopters for about a billion dollars. The IGA specifies that 200 Kamov-226T helicopters will be delivered within nine years of the signature of the contract.
The JV that will build the helicopter will have a 50.5 per cent majority stake for Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), and a 49.5 per cent stake for Russian Helicopters.
The Kamov-226T is a 3.5 tonne, two-pilot, light helicopter that is specially modified with a new engine for high-altitude operations in the Himalayas. It is intended to replace the obsolescent Chetak and Cheetah helicopters that currently constitute the military’s light helicopter fleet.
Like all Kamov helicopters, the Kamov-226T has contra-rotating rotors --- or two main rotors that rotate in opposite directions. This does away with the need for a tail rotor, making the helicopter lighter, and improving manoeuvrability in the mountains.
Alongside the 200 Kamovs being procured from Russia, HAL is separately developing and building about 200 Light Utility Helicopters (LUH). After the Chetak and Cheetah are phased out of service, the military will operate two types of light helicopters --- the Kamov-226T and the LUH.