Originally Published 2006-02-07 09:40:22 Published on Feb 07, 2006
During Prime Minister Manmohan Singh¿s early-December 2005 visit to Moscow, India and Russia signed landmark agreements to further cement their defence cooperation that dates back to almost half a century. These include an agreement on the defence of intellectual property rights that prevents either side from using technologies received from the other without special permission, joint construction of a multi-purpose transport plane
India-Russia Defence Cooperation: A Time-tested Relationship
During Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's early-December 2005 visit to Moscow, India and Russia signed landmark agreements to further cement their defence cooperation that dates back to almost half a century. These include an agreement on the defence of intellectual property rights that prevents either side from using technologies received from the other without special permission, joint construction of a multi-purpose transport plane, plans for joint R&D work on a fifth generation fighter jet and joint development, operation and use of the GLONASS (GPS) System for peaceful purposes. It was also reported by the media that Russia is planning to lease two Shchuka-B nuclear submarines to the Indian Navy and had agreed to extend its cooperation to the Indian plan to build the country's first nuclear submarine. However, the Indian Defence Minister denied this. 

Ongoing joint arms projects between India and Russia include the manufacture of BrahMos anti-ship missile, the building of Su-30 MKI fighter jets, T-90 tanks in India under licence and the re-furbishing of the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov. Current defence contracts between the two countries are worth US $9 billion. The armed forces of the two countries conducted joint air and naval exercises in October 2005 in India. All of these exemplify the high degree of mutual confidence built over the years. The defence cooperation that goes back to the Soviet era had been shaken by but had survived the death throes of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

During the Cold War era India-USSR cooperation had not gone much beyond a patron-client arms supply relationship. At the time of the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, over 70 percent of the weapons and equipment in service with India's armed forces were of Soviet origin. Over the last decade there has been increasing realisation in Russia that India is not only an important trading partner but also a prospective R&D partner. India is now among the largest purchasers of defence equipment from Russia and, in the years ahead, may become Russia's foremost partner in jointly developing future weapons systems. "Our defence cooperation will be expanded and deepened as we will be moving from 'seller-buyer' relationship to organising joint designing, development, production and marketing. BrahMos missile is a perfect example of what India and Russia can achieve when they jointly work on producing high quality armaments," Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee said in an interview with Alexander Lomanov, published in Vremya Novostei on November 18, 2005. 

In this era of strategic cooperation and interdependence for defence production, the BrahMos is a path-breaking example of a cooperative design and development venture that optimally synergises the strengths of the R&D and production agencies of both India and Russia. It is the story of a successful collaborative effort between high-end Russian missile technology and Indian excellence in developing sophisticated software solutions in a short period of time and at a low cost. The BrahMos is a true force multiplier for the navies of Russia and India as also for other navies that may decide to buy it. This missile is now being adapted for ship-to-ground, submarine-to-ground, air-to-ground and surface-to-surface launch platforms. The Indian Artillery is expected to induct this missile soon.

In the past India has imported naval ships and submarines, the MiG and Sukhoi series of fighter-bomber aircraft and air defence radars from Russia, T-55 and T-72 tanks, BMP fighting vehicles, 100 mm, 122 mm and 130 mm artillery guns, 122 mm Grad multi-barrel rocket launchers and almost its entire inventory of air defence artillery equipment. The Russian equipment was mostly tried and tested, rugged, suitable for Indian conditions and was purchased against soft loans, which were to be repaid over long periods under special Rupee-Rouble arrangements. 

India has for long been importing Russian military equipment either in fully assembled or SKD/CKD form. While some projects like the MiG series of aircraft, T-72 tanks and BMPs have involved local manufacture under license, there has rarely been any real transfer of technology. During then Defence Minister Jaswant Singh's June 2001 visit to Moscow, special emphasis was laid not only on technology transfer but also on the joint development and production of future weapons systems. That this was a mutually acceptable position was confirmed by Russia's Deputy Prime Minister, Ilya Klebanov when he said, "Our co-operation has turned toward the joint development and joint production of weapons, which is very important in the relations of the two countries." Joint development would synergise the specialised capabilities of the two countries to the mutual benefit of both. Due to the burgeoning costs of the development of major weapon platforms, the trend the world over is to undertake joint or multilateral development in which costs as well as technology are shared in a transparent manner. 

Under the June 2001 defence cooperation agreement, the two countries have agreed to work together for the joint development of several major weapon platforms, including a fifth-generation combat aircraft, IL-214 transport aircraft, submarines and frigates. Russia has also offered to upgrade the Indian fleet of Mi-8 and Mi-17 transport helicopters by extending their service life and technical capabilities. MiG-AT, the Russian advanced jet trainer (AJT) aircraft was also in the reckoning for selection along with a few other West European AJTs. The 2001 agreement was also reported to include a plan to create an air defence system, which would cover the whole of India's territory. India may consider the acquisition of some squadrons of the S-300V or S-400 air defence and anti-missile defence system to integrate them into its existing surface-to-air defences against enemy aircraft and medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs), while simultaneously undertaking indigenous development of the system. The United States has also expressed its keenness for ballistic missile defence cooperation with India and the Patriot PAC-3 system is reported to have been offered. 

The export controls imposed by the US-led West, military technology denial regimes, weapons, equipment and spares supply agreements that are hostage to unilateral sanctions and the impact of non-proliferation policies, make Western companies unreliable suppliers of defence equipment to India. It is logical for India to hedge its bets and continue to rely on Russia for its major weapons platforms, even as it diversifies its sources of acquisition of weapons and further enhances its vigorous efforts to develop and manufacture maximum defence equipment indigenously. There is increasing realisation that no country can afford to plough a lonely furrow in developing military hardware. The future of defence equipment modernisation lies in joint development followed by joint manufacture and, eventually, a joint approach to marketing. 

At present, India enjoys warm relations with both Russia and the US; both appear to be eager for a long-term strategic partnership with India, though the concepts underlying such a partnership and the aims and objectives may be different in either case. Being simultaneously wooed by two of the three major world powers of the early 21st century is recognition of a militarily self-confident India's gradual emergence as a future economic and industrial powerhouse. However, in the prevailing era of strategic uncertainty, it would be wise for India to retain its strategic autonomy and create its own space in the emerging geo-strategic environment. Towards this end, joint defence equipment R&D and production ventures, particularly in the area of critical technologies, must be pursued vigorously for mutual benefit.

* The author is Director Security Studies and Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.
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