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News Analysis
Drift in defence ties with Russia?
Americans, Europeans move in quickly to fill vacuum in several acquisitions
KV Prasad/TNS

Russian Defence Minister to arrive on Oct 10

New Delhi, October 8
The decision by Russia to defer by five days the visit of its Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov to India for the annual Inter-Governmental Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation was viewed by many as a snub to India amid reports of growing bilateral relations between Moscow and Islamabad.

The decision to reschedule the bilateral meeting to October 10, instead of October 5, attracted considerable attention, especially since the intimation of the postponement came closer to the event and coincided with reports of Pakistan army chief Ashfaq Kayani’s visit to Russia.

Emerging relations between India’s tried and trusted friend Russia with Pakistan, once considered close to Washington, has neither come as a surprise nor is the changing nature of defence ties between New Delhi and Moscow to those formulating policy in the Defence Ministry.

Over the past five years, the traditional dependence of India on Russia for military wares has come down and there is a gradual shift towards the United States and Europe. While India continues to depend on imports to meet up to 70 per cent of its military equipment, the share of products being procured from Russia had shown an overall decline.

From over 80 per cent of imports from Russia during 2006-2010, the share of Moscow is sliding even as the country remains one of the leading exporters of arms and military hardware worldwide after the United States.

India, which depended largely on Moscow for its military equipment requirements during the Soviet Union-era, continues to face problems in the form of steady supply and quality of spares. One of the reasons for it is that the Soviet defence industry was spread across various parts and after the break-up, these manufacturers remain located in different countries. It is said even now, Russia has not been able to establish a coordinated mechanism and consolidate its industrial military supplies base to the benefit of its existing customers.

The other issue is that Defence Procurement Policy that the Government of India has put in place mandates minimum 30 per cent offsets for orders valued over Rs 300 crore, which means the Russians will have to source the products from domestic suppliers. The Western military manufacturers have been quicker to move into this area, while the Russians largely rely on existing tie-ups with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and other defence Public Sector Undertakings with whom it has such arrangements. Adding to the woes is the delay in handing over aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya (Admiral Gorshkov) which, according to reports from Russia, cannot be delivered before the fall of 2013 as against the scheduled date of December 4, 2012 that was said to be ‘set-in-stone’.

As against these two handicaps, the Russians are rated high vis-a-vis India on the crucial issue of transfer of technology, something the Americans are extremely wary in allowing access to critical high-end technology items without any strings.

It makes Russia stand out in allowing lease of the nuclear-powered submarine INS Chakra to the Indian Navy for the second time in its history or in its quest to build an indigenous INS Arihant, the first of the nuclear submarine at Visakhapatnam docks, or the collaboration to co-develop Fifth-Generation Fighter Aircraft among others.

Even though India and Russia maintain that bilateral defence ties have moved beyond buyer-seller relations, the altering landscape in which Moscow lost out to the western nations cannot be understated, including the race for the prized $11 billion Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft. 





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