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Weaning India Away from Russian Arms, Prospects and Challenges

What are the prospects of India shunning Russian arms, what are the challenges and the way ahead, here is an overview with relevant data.

India is the biggest arms importer in the world and is also the biggest customer to the Russian defense industry, data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute shows.

India's dependence on Russian defense technology has been identified as one of the main reasons why the country did not speak out against Russia after the country invaded Ukraine at the end of last month and instead has attempted to remain neutral. Between 2017 and 2021, India received almost 28 percent of all Russian arms exports. 85 percent of the country's military equipment is believed to be Russian or Soviet, according to the Journal of Indo-Pacific Affairs. Russia and India are also close on trade, with India relying on Russia for fertilizer and energy needs.

Russia's second-biggest customer over the past five years was China. Tension between the country and its neighbor India have been responsible for the perceived need for security in the region, tying India even closer to its arms trade partner Russia. China, on the other hand, also has a growing domestics weapons industry.

Other countries having received large shares of Russian weapons in the past several years are Egypt and Algeria, receiving upwards of 10 percent each, as well as Vietnam, Kazakhstan and Iraq. Table from Statista Data Chart is as given below.

Theoritically it may be easy to make a call for India to reduce dependency on Russian arms imports. However in practical terms this will require fundamental shifts not just in terms of creating alternatives such as the Atma Nirbhara Bharat or self reliance in defence the flagship programme of the Indian Ministry of Defence but other factors.

Defence equipment dictates doctrines, operations and strategies apart from war fighting tactics. Fighting in the plains of Jammu - Pathankot and the deserts of Rajasthan has been rehearsed and planned employing the T 90 S and T 72 Russian tanks which seem to be most suitable. There are presently no alternatives with the large numbers required by the Indian Army. More over these have been operationally integrated with the Infantry Combat Vehicles the BMP 2 or Sarath for conduct of mechanised operations in this terrain. A shift to other tanks and ICVs is expected to take a decadal effort.

Then for air combat the Su 30 MKI is held by the Indian Air Force in large numbers and is the most modern fighter after the Rafale which has been recently inducted. IAF fighter operations and combat tactics have been integrated around the Su 30 MK I with some 260 to 270 in the inventory. A shift to such large numbers in the short to medium term to an alternative fighter is not a practical proposition.

Similarly the Indian Navy's Kilo Class Submarines may be dated but the large numbers fielded with the heavy weight of 3T will take some time to replace even as six Scorpene clas are expected to make up the short fall of requirement of 24. The efficiency of the Kilo class may be lower but numbers are essential for continous monitoring of the number of chokepoints that the Indian Navy has to keep under surveillance.

There is no gainsaying that India has to reduce imports and go in for indigenisation. A boost to manufacturing line up of tanks, combat aircraft and submarines is the way ahead which needs to be put into place soonest. Presently apart from the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) LCA manufacturing line alternatives are not seen in the offing.

After delivery of the sixth Scorpene Class submarine, Mazagon Docks Ltd may well see the skills building up and the manufacturing base created for submarines languish untill the P 75 I takes off which may be any time taking 3 to 5 years the way the Ministry of Defence Acquisition procses functions. The Army does not have an indigenous tank manufacturing line up - the Arjun is not a real alternative for the T 90 S or T 72.

Till such a time, dependency on imports and sustenance will remain the way ahead.


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