India has lined up several big-ticket defense projects for discussion between its prime minister, Narendra Modi, and Russian President Vladimir Putin at a summit meeting in Goa next month, according to a Ministry of Defence (MoD) official.
The projects include the purchase of S-400 air defense systems worth $6 billion; finalization of the long-pending joint development of fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) worth more than $20 billion; leasing of a second nuclear-powered submarine worth more than $1 billion; and acquisition of $4 billion worth of stealth frigates to replace the Indian Navy’s Russian-built Rajput-class warships.
The MoD official said that the defense projects, most of which are already at the negotiating stage, were discussed at the 16th India-Russia Military Technical Cooperation Working Group meeting that took place Sept. 7-8 in New Delhi.
It’s likely that some of them could get the “final go ahead” during the Modi-Putin meeting, the official said, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), the highest body in the MoD that takes the lead on weapons purchasing, last year cleared the purchase of five S-400 systems worth $6 billion.
However, Moscow is dragging its feet in readily agreeing to sell the S-400 system, which was sold to China in 2014.
“Russia has been irritated by the fact that the Indo-US defense trade has increased to $13 billion, whereas the defense trade with Russia has not grown at the same pace despite Moscow being a strategic and traditional defense partner,” defense analyst Bhim Singh said.
The ruling Modi government is now making efforts “to correct the imbalance,” which appears to be tilted toward the West, in particular the US, Singh said.
Meanwhile, an agreement between India and Russia on the joint production the FGFA for the Indian Air Force (IAF) has been “nearly” reached, said a different source in the MoD.
Defense analyst and retired IAF Air Marshal Daljit Singh said of the India-Russia relationship: “Even though there has been an initial understanding between the two governments to jointly develop FGFA, the agreement could not progress due to differences over the percentage of work share [involved in] the research and development content between India and Russia. The agreement would be finalized if these issues have been resolved. It appears that there have been clear directions to move ahead with the agreement by mutually resolving the contentious issues.”
The preliminary agreement for the joint production of FGFA was inked in 2010, and a final agreement would release about $6 billion for the joint development.
“India and Russia have gone into deeper details in the FGFA,” the first MoD official said, adding that the program is “now revived.” India has already spent $300 million in a preliminary design contract for the project with Russia.
According to the agency official, India and Russia agree on the pricing aspect of the development and IAF’s demand to incorporate several changes in the prototype for use by the Indians.
India and Russia are also having an “advanced discussion” on the leasing of a second nuclear attack submarine, the first MoD official said.
Russia has already leased an Akula-class nuclear attack submarine to India for 10 years as a package deal along with the Russian-built aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, which was commissioned into the Indian Navy as INS Chakra in 2012.
From 2004-2005, the two countries inked big-ticket projects including the license production of Sukhoi aircraft, MiG 29K fighter aircraft and aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshokov for the Indian Navy, and the license production of T-90 tanks.
Analysts here say India will continue to be a major buyer of Russian weaponry and equipment.
“The Indian military will continue to depend on legacy and new Russian equipment for the foreseeable future. This dependence is hugely profitable for Russia in terms of post-sales services and spares,” said Subhash Bojwani, a retired IAF Air Marshal and defense analyst.