The Russian connection - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Wednesday 26 December 2012

The Russian connection

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 27th Dec 12

Although India now buys its defence hardware from a range of countries in addition to Russia, the Indo-Russian defence relationship remains stronger than ever. Instead of fighter aircraft, tanks and air defence guns, Russia is now India’s prime source for “sub-strategic” systems that incorporate closely guarded technologies. These include the nuclear-propelled submarine INS Chakra, which Russia has provided on a 10-year lease; the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya; and potential access to the precision code of Russia’s Global Navigation Satellite System. After jointly developing the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, the two countries are joining hands to develop next-generation systems for both their militaries, like the Fifth-Generation Fighter Aircraft and the Multirole Transport Aircraft. Russia has also helped India develop its own nuclear-propelled ballistic missile submarine.

Although the defence relationship has recently made headlines for negative reasons – cost escalations, time overruns and serious glitches in technology transfer – it remains not just a positive driver of Indo-Russian relations, but increasingly the primary one, along with the other two strategic fields of space and nuclear co-operation. With trade relations languishing, Moscow playing hardball with Indian hydrocarbon companies, and the Sistema row roiling relations, the defence relationship is a reliable sheet anchor that steadies the overall partnership.

Importantly, given the wariness that characterises relations with China, any distancing from Russia would make India appear uncomfortably like a western ally. With Russia growing politically closer to China and increasingly dependent on the Chinese economy, strong Moscow-Delhi defence ties give Russia the strength to keep China’s defence industry at arm’s length. Moscow’s ambitious State Armament Programme aims at practically re-equipping the entire Russian military by 2020 at a cost of $650 billion. This requires developing a whole menu of new-generation systems and technologies, something that Moscow cannot fund on its own. The trust between Moscow and New Delhi makes India the ideal partner for co-development, with the cost and the technological risk shared by both of them rather than absorbed purely by Russia. Furthermore, the vast requirements of the Indian military, combined with Russia’s own modernisation drive, provide the economies of scale needed for both militaries to obtain high-tech, low-cost systems.

Beijing’s institutionalised embrace of reverse engineering means Russian technology czars prefer India, which buys cutting-edge systems and customises a few key sub-systems to suit its own requirements. While India benefits from Russia’s superior technology and experience in building advanced weaponry, working with a senior partner could create an undesirable dependency unless there are clear systems in place to ensure that technology is absorbed by Indian engineers. New Delhi has also realised that there are times when it has to accept delays and cost increases. There are geopolitical and military advantages of a close relationship with Russia, but New Delhi needs to deal with the disadvantages that are evident at the transactional level and shape the relationship to both parties’ advantage.


  1. Problem is that neither Russia can have a friend like India, nor India can have a friend like Russia. So the life goes on whether in the cold war or hot war.

  2. India,Russia,Ukraine should form a trilateral organization for defence research & development.

  3. Ajai ji, plz do not write such detailed articles about Indo-Russian friendship...May be someone will label you as an agent of Rosoboronexport with vested interests....

    1. Mr Rahul, Ajai should not have any fear of getting levelled as he is proven. But I sincerely doubt your allegiance for this country based on your past comments .

    2. Rahul better pack off from here.

  4. Why are the Russians giving SU-35 to china, even after the chinese reverse engineered their products. The engine we will be using in PAK-FA or FGFA will be very close to what is used in SU-35. Also the delay in Ins-Vikramaditya is creating suspicion, that they are helping maintain chinese superiority over India. I seriously have a doubt that the Russians will make sure that China has their Aircraft carrier operational before delivering Ins-Vikramaditya. Either there are some insiders from India or Russia is helping China.

  5. Sir, You should recheck the figures given by HAL regarding no of Su-30 procured. The contract for 42 Su-30 kits placed in 24th dec brought the total no of Su to 311 . If you believe it is 272, pls clarify and give relevant references.

  6. Dear Col Shukla,
    Every time someone writes some adverse comments about the Russian connection/monopoly of the Indian Defense procurement, many would jump in and claim that they have been the best friends of India not realizing that the defense trade has always been in their favour. They just sold us products which other nations would not even touch with a long pole. Those products were not based on cutting edge technology.

    Most often India had no choice but to buy those inferior products because they came dirt cheap initially but the prices got escalated as and when India needed more of the same or for spare parts. Most of those products were inducted into the Armed forces without even perfunctory trials compared to what the Arjun, LCA,etc is put through before they even get to service in the Armed Forces.

    We are always cajoled into believing that the Russians helped us with the nuclear submarine, Arihant. If they did help us so much with the nuclear power plant, why is it not operational and why is it underpowered? The Russians have not given complete TOT for the Sukhoi aircraft, T-90 as well as keeping our IAF not fully operational at optimum strength because fighter as well as transport aircraft can't fly due to a shortage of spares.

    The Russians are yet to deliver the Gorshkov aircraft carrier that was sold at an incredibly exorbitant price. The Arihant with Russian help is still not operational. The leased Chakra cannot be used in an offensive role.The FGFA decades away. Our all weather friends who have the know-how of jet engines have not lend a hand in our effort to make the Kaveri.

    Yet, we seem to be rooting for them as though they are doing us a great favour. We are not getting the products free or at reasonable prices. The same or better products could be sourced from the West.

    It is no use putting all our eggs in the Russian basket. We should learn to diversify.

  7. Happy New Year to you all.

  8. @the terminator: Dude, if the junk Sukhoi 30 MKI can bump off the American F-16/F-15 regularly without any issues, I won't mind getting it. Read about Cope India and Red Flag which is public knowledge now....

    As for your daydreams that West will supply better technologies, I would recommend you to wake up...Remember, a superior colonial mindset West has a lot more to worry about a rising India than Russia....A rising India is an eyesore for US and West because they cannot accept the fact that a previous colonized country can rise up to challenge them. Russia has never colonized India and will never do it....They are more comfortable with our rise...

  9. Happy New Year Col Shukla.

  10. @Anonymous 1 January 2013 00:52: Which comments are you referring to? And does the name 'Rahul' comes across to you as a Pakistani or Chinese or American name? Not sure about the name 'Anonymous' though....Anyone can be anonymous, agreed?


  12. @the terminator
    I agree with your views

    Ever since ajai pointed out that HAL was a problem, the first thing that came to my mind was that HAL was the indian partner on the development of FGFA from T-50.

    I think the FGFA is going to go the tejas way too.

    There is no responsibility and no accountability. I blame the political class for its refusal to put its foot down. These people in cahoots with each other.


  14. Rahul (kolkata) 01:51
    Where did I say the Sukhoi30MKI is a junk? In fact, coming to think of it it was a junk in its initial avatar. It only became a potent fighter after having Indian and Western inputs in its avionics.

    If you really believe in Cope India and Red Flag where the Sukhoi30MKI came tops against American front line fighters, then you are very naive.

    You seem to have a penchant to miss the obvious - what stares right in your face.

    Learn to read the comments and if possible (in your case) read in between the lines before you jump to make your silly comments.

    The less said about your rants, the better for this blog.

  15. @Terminator 5 January 2013 18:00:

    This name(Terminator) comes across as an American. No doubt why the American arms agents would love to hate the Russians....No difference in your case also....A small suggestion. If you really want to make a point in this blog, reveal your true identity, don't try to hide under a false name....Only people who have dubious credentials hide under anonymous names...

    The results for Cope India and Red Flag are out there in public domain and have been corroborated by IAF and some guys in USAF(The USAF, as a whole, will never accept the fact that they lost because of their superpower complexity). And mind u, the initial avatar and not the MKI version defeated the Americans way back in 2004. If you have separate opinion on it, I am sorry to say, but you have wrong info(probably deliberate)....

    As for the fact that Russians sell us junk, why can't those same technologies be developed inhouse? We are slowly trying to develop these in our country but does that mean we don't arm our armed forces waiting for the indigeneous product to come out??? How stupid logic from a zero grey matter person like u. As for your daydreams that West will sell much better technologies, you can consider the recent MMRCA negotiations as your case study. The French are trying all possible means to block the TOT of critical technologies like AESA radar and other things. And this, after the MMRCA deal was touted the make or break case for Rafale.

    As for your comments that Russian products are exoribant and delayed, what about the French Scorpene submarines India is building? I don't deny that there are maintaineance issues with Russian products and they have cost overruns and delayed, but what are the alternatives? Now, as an American agent, don't say F-35 because the F-35 delays and cost overruns will be a case study of project management sometime future in Harvard...

  16. The Russians after the Cold war have a different mindset that will see them export military equipment to the highest bidder for cold hard cash. No advanced (western) country, including both Russia and Israel will part with sophisticated technology to a developing country that would see a leveling of the power balance as well as diminishing their export earning potential.

    We should be more like the Chinese. We have to get some of the best engineering brains in the country and get them to reverse-engineer and innovate on either stolen, bought or develop new technology. That is the ONLY way the country is going to become self-reliant in military, space, communication and every other future technology on the horizon. If we don't do this, we are going to spend all of the govt. revenue and get into a quagmire of deficit and debt that will reverse the economic gains achieved so far. If our culture is to evolve (that our women and all fellow citizens will be treated as equals) to the highest standards, we must maintain economic growth at the highest possible level for the longest possible time. To understand the economic angle again, the Chinese people on the whole now enjoy more prosperity and hope due to the many years of sustained double-digit growth, thereby earning them the respect and admiration of the entire world.

    If the Chinese are able to do it, there is no doubt that can we too. We just have to pull together. That is what the Chinese and the others are hoping we do not. Let's prove them wrong!


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