India’s military ties with Russia are not likely to be affected by recent spurt in the purchase of equipment from the US. For, the wide range of military equipment being sourced from Russia, or being co-developed with Moscow, is far too huge for the US to match, sources told The Tribune.
Notably, the US has recently entered the Indian military market via the government-to-government sales route and is at best “setting its foot on the soil”. Russia, however, is so well ensconced that frontline fighters the Sukhoi-30 and T-90 tanks are now being produced in India itself. And co-development projects include a cruise missile, next generation of fighter and transport planes, an official said.
Among the recent acquisition from the US have been the six C-130-J medium haul transport planes the first batch arrives in February next. The Navy will also be soon getting the first batch of the eight long-range maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft, the P-8I. India has already selected the General Electric’s GE 414 engine to power the next lot of light combat aircraft — the Tejas.
Besides, the Army is in the final stages of trying out the ultra-light howitzer — the M777. The gun can be slung under a chopper and dropped at remote mountainous locations. The last on the list is the much talked about $5.8 billion deal for the purchase of 10 heavy lift transport aircraft, the C-17-A Globemaster. This could be finalised during the present visit of the US President.
Ironically, even as all these deals were being discussed in the media, India’s own developed fighter aircraft engine, the Kaveri, was flight-tested in Russia on November 3. The engine programme had suffered following the imposition of sanctions post the 1998 Pokhran nuclear test. The US had placed DRDO -- the developer of the engine -- on the entities list banning US companies from dealing with it.
Sources pointed out that the recent announcement regarding India and Russia co-developing the fifth generation fighter aircraft has indicated that the next generation of IAF fighters will again come from the Russian stable. “There cannot be two types of fifth generation fighters,” said a source in the Ministry of Defence. Since the early 1960s, IAF frontline fighters have been invariably of Soviet-Russian origin, be it the MiG series or the latest Sukhoi-30 MKI.
The two countries have announced a $600 million joint venture to co-develop a multi-role transport aircraft. Sources said the US transport planes -- the C-130-J and the C-17-A -- are for tactical and strategic lift purposes. The fleet of 100 odd Soviet-origin AN 32 -- presently being upgraded -- and the IL 76 will form the backbone of transport operations for the next 10-15 years.
On the Naval front, the upcoming Indian nuclear submarine, INS Arihant, also has a strong Russian element. The India Navy will soon get a nuclear submarine, the Nerpa, on a 10-year lease from Russia while Yantar dockyard is building three of the India’s stealth technology warships. Separately, the controversy-ridden aircraft carrier Gorshkov is finally back on track.