October 11, 2012

India, Russia line up mega defence deals

Despite aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov's delivery being further delayed to end-2013, and India chaffing at Russia's proclivity to jack up costs and overshoot deadlines, the two countries have set the stage for another flurry of bilateral defence projects over the next few months.

This came through after the 12th Indo-Russian inter-governmental commission on military technical cooperation (IRIGC-MTC), chaired by defence minister A K Antony and his Russian counterpart Anatoly Serdyukov on Wednesday.

"Russia is our time-tested and reliable friend," said Antony, who side-stepped questions on whether New Delhi would impose penalty or liquidity damages on Moscow for the continuing delay in INS Vikramaditya, the refurbished 44,570-tonne Gorshkov for which India has paid $2.33 billion.

The new contracts in pipeline, some of which may be inked during President Vladimir Putin's visit here next month, will again reassert Russia's position as India's largest arms supplier by far despite countries like the US, Israel and France also making deep inroads into the lucrative Indian market. India will spend close to $50 billion on them over the next two decades.

The contracts range from an additional 42 new Sukhoi-30MKIs to add to the 230 of them already contracted, at an overall cost upwards of $12 billion, as well as another 71 Mi-17 V5 helicopters after the initial induction of 80 of these armed helicopters for $1.34 billion.

Then, apart from the project to develop a "new-generation" hypersonic BrahMos cruise missile after the supersonic version being inducted in the Indian armed forces, India and Russia are poised to seal the full final design/R&D phase contract for development of the stealth fifth-generation fighter aircraft.

The R&D contract is pegged at $11 billion, with the two countries chipping in with $5.5 billion each. Each of this 5th Gen fighter - India hopes to induct 200 to 250 of them from 2022 onwards - will cost at least $100 million over that.

In the near term, the delay in Vikramaditya's delivery was taken up during the meet. "I myself raised our serious concerns over the delay," said Antony, calling for "a wartime effort" by Russia to ensure the carrier's delivery at the earliest.

Serdyukov said, "The ship encountered a big malfunction with the main power plant and boiler...I hope its sea trials will resume next April...the transfer will take place in the fourth quarter of 2013."

India is spending another $2 billion to induct 45 Russian MiG-29K naval fighters to operate from the decks of Vikramaditya and the indigenous aircraft carrier, which too has been delayed at the Cochin Shipyard till at least 2018.

The cost for Vikramaditya's refit escalated to $2.33 billion from the original $974 million earmarked in the January 2004 contract under which the carrier was to be delivered by August, 2008. The fresh contract for Vikramaditya, under which it was to delivered by last December, provides for penalty of up to 5%.

But India is reluctant as yet to invoke it because of the long-standing bilateral ties as well as several ongoing defence projects with Russia, which has also leased nuclear-powered submarine INS Chakra to the Indian Navy as well as provided consultancy in the construction of the indigenous nuclear submarine INS Arihant.

Times of India

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