India Russia Defence Technical Cooperation 2012: A Comprehensive Review
The twelfth meeting of the India-Russia Inter-governmental Commission on Military Technical Cooperation (IRIGCMTC) which is the annual apex event of the two defence ministries in the country was held in New Delhi on 10 October 2012. The Indian delegation was led by the Defence Minister Shri AK Antony and the Russian by Shri AE Serdyukov, Defence Minister of Russia. The event provides an occasion for a review of key vectors of contemporary India Russia Defence Technical Cooperation.
The legacy of India Russia defence cooperation is strengthened by frequent structured interactions between the ministry officials and military of the two countries. The annual meetings of the IRIGCMTC are held alternately in Moscow and New Delhi, thus it was the turn of Mr Antony to host Mr Serdyukov. What is notable is the joint press conference addressed by the two Defence Minister’s indicating that they were willing to be upfront on various issues particularly delay in handing over aircraft carrier Gorshkov nee INS Vikramaditya which has become a hot button in the Indian media in the past few weeks.
As expected in what is more or less a ritual, the IRIGCMTC endorsed the Protocols of the meetings of the Working Group on Shipbuilding, Aviation and Land Systems, (WG SALS) and the Working Group on Military Technical Cooperation (WG-MTC) held in New Delhi on 27-28 August, 2012 and 30-31 August, 2012 respectively as per a press release by the Indian Ministry of Defence. The Commission also reviewed some of the ongoing projects in a possible agenda that could have included delay in delivery of Gorshkov including technical reasons and possible penalties, agreement on 42 additional SU MKI dubbed as the, “Super Sukhoi,” progress in development of Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft, progress on a number of joint production, possible cooperation in co-development of hypersonic missiles amongst other issues. Some of the underlying issues which need detailed consideration are discussed as per succeeding paragraphs.
Mr Anatoliy Serdyukov has been the Russian Defence Minister since February 2007 and this would be his sixth meeting with his Indian counterpart Mr A K Antony who has been heading Indian defence ministry since 2005. Mr Serdyukov has been reportedly charged by the Russian leadership duo President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (who have been mutually switching jobs) to down size and modernize the Russian military. He has undertaken an ambitious plan in 2010 spread over 15 years. An area of focus has been reducing top layer of the military hierarchy which has impacted promotions and has been an unpopular move as per some Russia media reports.
On his part Mr Antony is known for his integrity and probity and is trying to put into place systems for indigenization of defence research and development and production in India. The minister is seen by many as a conservative conformist rather than a reformer. Thus two contrasting personalities may be at work here. Nevertheless the nature of India Russia relations makes it easy for those in the loop to operate despite their contrasting styles.
There was much speculation of the reason for postponement of the date of the annual meeting from 04th to 10th of October. Sources in India indicated that possibly Russian Defence Minister Mr Serdyukov was staying back to meet with the Pakistan Army chief, General Kiyani who was on a visit to Moscow from 4th to 6th October. However avoiding controversy, Mr Serdyukov, stated at the Press meet in New Delhi, "I could not make it but the only reason I stayed back was due to participation in certain activities run by my supreme commander President Putin. It was the release of new transport aircraft IL-476. It is a huge contract and it is very promising," he said.
Noted Russian correspondent, Vladimir Radyuhin, writing in India’s national daily Hindu reiterated the reason as signing of purchase of new heavy transport aircraft Il-476. Radyuhin also added that Mr Serdyukov had to accompany Mr. Putin to Tajikistan, to sign the deal extending by 30 years the lease of a major military base there. Whatever it be the week’s delay gave both sides time to review their positions on various issues and most importantly on delay in delivery of the aircraft carrier Gorshkov nee INS Vikramaditya which has become a sore point.
On a more substantive issue in relation to Pakistan, the possibility of a military technical cooperation arrangement between Russia and that country was categorically denied by Mr Serdyukov. Speaking at the joint press conference he said, “I will make a very short comment that we have not had any change in our legislation whatsoever," implying that Russia will not violate agreement with India that it would not provide arms to India’s military adversaries. Despite these claims debate on the issue is likely to continue fueled by media speculation in India as well as Pakistan where there is a degree of satisfaction over developing trajectory of relations with Russia.
In the defence technical cooperation field, India’s major pie in Russian arms exports is evident. As per a report by Russian think tank, Centre for Analysis of World Arms Trade (CAWAT), quoted by the Russia India Report (RIR) Russia’s total military exports between 2008 and 2011 were $29.8 billion. India was the top customer at $ 8.2 billion or 27.5 percent. Algeria ($4.7 billion) and China ($3.5 billion) followed. The top three importers accounted for 55.47 percent of total Russian military exports during that period.
India is also likely to retain the top slot from 2012 to 2015. “Between 2012 and 2015, India will once again become the number one importer ($14.3 billion), followed by Venezuela ($3.2 billion) instead of Algeria. Vietnam will rank third, with imports of $3.2 billion,” RIR quoted Igor K Korotchenko director of CAWAT.
Despite apprehensions of firstly India’s opening up defence imports across the board in recent years diversifying sourcing from the USA and France apart from expanding relations with another traditional supplier Israel, India Russia military technical cooperation is on a strong footing and there is unlikely to be any deceleration in the progress. New apprehensions on Russia Pakistan relations may be seen as an emerging regional paradigm based on multiple vectors and may not progress into a military partnership in the near future.
More over the strength of India Russia defence relations apart from the long legacy is in three unique projects, lease of nuclear-powered submarine INS Chakra to the Indian Navy by Russia for the second time, assistance in building an indigenous nuclear powered submarine INS Arihant and joint development of Fifth-Generation Fighter Aircraft. None of other partners can replicate this bond which makes India- Russia defence relations unique.