Russian President Vladimir Putin will arrive in New Delhi, this month, for his summit with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to further strengthen the “special, privileged strategic partnership” between the two countries. In the run up to the summit, the two leaders have already reaffirmed that defence cooperation is an important pillar of bilateral strategic partnership which will be high on the agenda of their talks. Over the past months, the two sides have been conducting talks to straighten the loose ends of some of the major pending defence deals to be timed for signature during the summit.
Following his assuming office of Prime Minister in May, Putin met Modi, for the first time, on the sidelines of BRICS summit in Fortaleza (Brazil), in July, and second time, at G-20 summit in Brisbane (Australia) in November. During both these meetings with the Russian President, Modi reiterated that he looked forward to working with Putin to further deepen the strategic partnership between Russia and India, especially in the field of military-technical cooperation.
Recently, India’s new Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said that as a policy, the country would stress on working on joint projects with his partners, such as Russia. In a way, Parrikar reemphasized the long-standing partnership between Russia and India in the field of state-of-the-art weapons, acquiring unprecedented importance now with increased diversified military-technical collaboration. In fact, the diversified defence cooperation between the two countries has become the need of the hour.
In 2013, India imported $6 billion worth of weapons, with the country turning into a big defence market. The new Indian government has also taken a crucial decision of opening the defence sector to foreign investments. No wonder that since the new NDA government came into power, the Western governments have frantically been trying to woo India to get multi-billion dollar deals. This makes incumbent on both Moscow and New Delhi to give bilateral defence cooperation a new direction by speedily implementing the agreements already signed within the prospective framework of joint research, development, designing and production.
In this connection, it is expected that during the summit, Russia and India may ultimately resolve several long-delayed agreements on military-technical cooperation projects between the two countries and sign them finally for their implementation. These agreements, above all, include joint Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) project and joint development of Multi-role Transport Aircraft (MTA).
A final deal on FGFA for production has been delayed because the Indian Air Force (IAF) did not approve the design and work-share. Now Russia has reportedly agreed that the jet would be a two-seat design, not a one-seater. India’s work-share would also be increased from18 percent to 25 percent, and even up to 40-50 percent in the near future, in view of the steady development of the Indian aviation industry.
According to the agreement, India’s stealth air-to-air missile “Astra” along with Indo-Russian BrahMos supersonic cruise missile will be mounted on the FGFA.
The preliminary design agreement on FGFA had been signed in 2010 between Indian HAL and Russian Sukhoi Design Bureau to build the jet for the use by both countries. The final design contract was to be signed in July-August 2012. But the deadline has already passed. According to the Indian media reports, under the programme, India is expected to build 200 fighter jets at the cost of $30 billion.
FGFA is not the only Indo-Russia joint project. The two countries also signed an agreement on the joint development of MTA in 2007, based on Il-214 Russian plane. The cost of the $600 million project is being equally shared by the two countries. The MTA, when developed, will have ready market for 205 aircraft - 45 for the Indian Air Force, 100 for the Russian Air Force, and 60 more for exporting to friendly countries. The international market for MTA is estimated at 390 planes. Under the agreement, thirty percent of the annual production of planes could be exported to third countries.
The MTA was expected to go in service with the Russian and Indian Air Forces in 2015. But the project faced a number of problems, delaying the development of the MTA. The project got into rough weather after India felt there was nothing much for Indian engineers and scientists to do in the design and development of the MTA.
However, all the issues related to the project were resolved with the Russians when the HAL undertook to carry out design and development of its work-share of MTA at Aircraft R&D Centre at Bangalore. Russian Ilyushin Design Bureau and the Irkut Corporation and HAL are participating in the project. The first flight is expected to take place in 2017-18.
The MTA would replace the AN- 32 aircraft being used by the IAF. It will be used for both cargo and troop transportation, para-drop and air drop of supplies, including low-altitude parachute extraction system.
Another key deal expected to be signed during the summit, is for the development of “BrahMos mini missile” by the Indo-Russian joint venture BrahMos Aerospace which manufactures supersonic cruise missile. BrahMos’ new CEO Sudhir Mishra recently said he was hopeful that a deal to develop the mini version of the missile will be signed during Putin’s summit with Modi.
“We are hoping to sign a tripartite agreement between DRDO, NPOM lab and BrahMos Aerospace during the planned visit of Russian President in December,” Mishra said.
He said that the new missile will have a speed of 3.5 mach and carry a payload of 300 km up to a range of 290 km. In size, it will be about half of the present missile, which is around 10 metres long. The missile can be integrated with different platforms, including submarines and FGFA. It is planned to be inducted into service by 2017.