‘Strength is not enough’: why India requires Russian weapons

This post was published in Gazeta. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.


MOSCOW, (BM) – Amid an armed conflict with China, India seeks to strengthen military cooperation with Russia. According to media reports, the goal of the Indian Defense Minister’s recent visit to Moscow was to accelerate the procurement of Russian weapons and military equipment. “Gazeta.Ru” was figuring out whether New Delhi would help Russia’s weapons in the conflict with Beijing.

On Thursday, the visit of the Indian delegation to Moscow ended. The agreement to speed up military-technical cooperation with the largest buyer of Russian weapons was the main result of the visit to Moscow of the Minister of Defense of India, Rajnath Singh.

India intends to accelerate the procurement of Russian weapons and military equipment in order to increase the combat and operational capabilities of the national armed forces.

New Delhi’s desire to receive Russian fighters and air defense systems as soon as possible is caused by the growing need to neutralize threats from China and Pakistan, which are carrying out accelerated modernization of their air forces.

Russia, according to Kommersant, will accelerate the implementation of a key defense contract with India, which provides for Delhi’s delivery of five anti-aircraft missile divisions and S-400 Triumph air defense systems, and will also intensify negotiations on the supply of 33 MiG-29 and Su-India fighters to India 30MKI.

The contract for the supply of 21 MiG-29 fighters and 12 Su-30MKI fighters to India has not yet been signed, however, the Indian side expressed a desire to conclude it in October last year (the total amount of the transaction, presumably, may be $ 650 million). In turn, the contract for the supply of five S-400 air defense systems to India in the amount of $ 5 billion was signed in October 2018.

These issues are becoming more relevant in the context of the aggravation of the situation on the Sino-Indian border. As previously reported by Gazeta.Ru, New Delhi and Beijing are sending troops into the zone of tension, and this despite the fact that both sides say that the situation in the region is under control.

Experts believe that the existing contradictions between the two nuclear powers make a military conflict quite possible. Both sides are downplaying the scale and nature of the tension that risks escalating into armed violence.

We are talking about the Aksaychin region, located on the border of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of the PRC, Pakistan and India. The territory is ruled by China, but disputed by India, which includes this region in the union territory of Ladakh.

Aksaychin (literally translated from the Uyghur language as “the white Chin ravine”) is an extensive high-mountain salt desert located at an altitude of up to 5 thousand meters. Geographically, it is part of the Tibetan plateau. There are practically no local residents in the region, as well as permanent settlements.

On June 15, according to media reports, at least 20 Indian soldiers, including the colonel, were killed in a fierce clash between Indian and Chinese troops in the Galvan Valley region of eastern Ladakh. The incident occurred amid the declared “de-escalation process” in the highland border region and less than a week after both countries announced that they had reached an agreement on a peaceful settlement.

Chinese military border incursions are seen as an unprecedented departure from the status quo, leading to the first deaths on the line of actual control (LAC) in 45 years.

However, the People’s Liberation Army of China proclaimed sovereignty over the Galvan Valley region and accused India of violating their agreement.

In this regard, the question arises – how much will the Russian supply of arms and military equipment increase the combat effectiveness of the Indian armed forces in the event of a conflict with neighbors (China, and quite possibly in a coalition with Pakistan)?

“Despite all their importance for New Delhi, so far we are talking about relatively small amounts of weapons. For example, five anti-aircraft missile divisions and S-400 anti-aircraft missile controls (despite the strategic importance of this contract) – this is, in fact, an anti-aircraft missile regiment. If it is deployed on the cover of the capital of India, the city of New Delhi, it will certainly fulfill its combat mission. But, for example, in order to cover up the operational-strategic association of the Indian forces, drawn into a large-scale armed conflict with neighbors, this outfit is clearly not enough” explained to “Gazeta.ru” the ex-deputy chief of the Main Operations Directorate of the General Staff of the RF Armed Forces, Lieutenant General Valery Zaparenko.

And 33 fighters, the source said, is even smaller than the fighter aviation regiment of the “normal” state, which is 36 combat vehicles plus six “sparks” —that is, two-seat combat training fighters.

Moreover, the general drew attention to the fact that a number of contracts are under implementation, and according to some agreements reached, the signing procedure is still ahead.

In this regard, Valery Zaparenko believes, it probably makes sense to negotiate a significantly larger supply of weapons and military equipment (or to organize their licensed production directly in India under the Make in India program).

“India has long felt an urgent need for new fighter jets, the military leadership has set a target of 42 combat squadrons, while the country’s air force currently has only 30, some of which are equipped with outdated aircraft,” told “Gazeta.ru” expert at the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies Timofei Borisov.

According to the expert, it is obvious that in the foreseeable future, she will not succeed in meeting these needs at the expense of her own defense industry, with all the efforts made under the Make in India program.

The only option is to purchase finished products abroad, Timofei Borisov believes. At the same time, in the past decade, against the backdrop of rapid economic growth, India has been able to afford to move away from the principle of price-quality ratio observed for many years when choosing weapons systems, to the purchase of “prestigious” and expensive Western models: Lockheed Martin US military transport aircraft C-130J Super Hercules, French Dassault Rafale multirole fighters, etc.

Recently, however, a slowdown in the Indian economy has been observed. Even before the introduction of quarantine in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic, the growth rate decreased from the average value of the last five years at 7% to 5% in 2019–2020 fin. And according to the adjusted forecasts of the International Monetary Fund, in 2020–2021 fin. the growth will be only 1.9%. Accordingly, the military budget will also be reduced.

“Under these conditions, it becomes clear that perhaps only Russia is able to provide products that meet Indian requirements at reasonable prices and within a reasonable time.” notes Timofey Borisov.

According to the expert, relations between India and Pakistan and China are developing unstably, periods of escalation give way to periods of “lull”, however, both neighbors and the measures they carry out in the field of military construction and modernization of the armed forces are in any case perceived in New Delhi as a threat to their own security.

“Therefore, we can agree with the thesis that the current decision to accelerate negotiations with Russia on the purchase of MiG-29 and Su-30MKI fighters is more strategic than opportunistic. But the overlapping economic problems, the consequences of the coronary crisis and the increasing border incidents force India to act more actively,” Borisov said.

As for the Indo-Russian relations, although they remained generally friendly, they stagnated for a long time.

The material base that has traditionally supported them – the sale of weapons and several other projects supported by the state – has not expanded for decades.

But even against this background, Russia has recently lost six arms tenders in a row in India, and many of these failures were due to inexplicable reasons, as previously reported by Gazeta.Ru.

Russian developments, such as Il-78MKI refueling aircraft, MiG-35 fighter jets, Mi-28NE and Mi-26T2 attack and transport helicopters, submarines and a number of other weapons and military equipment, were inferior to foreign counterparts in various tenders and competitions.

Nevertheless, Russia remains one of the main players in the Indian arms market. Russian-Indian cooperation in the military-technical field totals about six decades.

Last year, India entered the top three Russian military-technical partners with a portfolio of orders in excess of $ 15 billion.

Over the past three years, contracts have been signed for the supply of the S-400 Triumph anti-aircraft missile system, construction of project 11356 frigates in Russia and India, and a contract has been signed to increase the licensed production of T-90S tanks. The victory was won in the international tender for the supply and organization in India of the licensed production of Igla-S portable anti-aircraft missile systems, and a number of contracts for the supply of large quantities of missiles and ammunition for the military and ground forces were also under implementation. A draft program of Russian-Indian military-technical cooperation until 2030 was handed over to Indian partners.

Recently, both governments (both in Moscow and New Delhi) have talked a lot about the need to give a new impetus to Indian-Russian relations, and that much more can be achieved in this area. It is obvious that stronger and more comprehensive relations with India will help Russia maintain equilibrium in Greater Eurasia, including with regard to China. India will also benefit from more productive and safer ties with Russia.

Is there a way to improve Indo-Russian economic and technological ties and make geopolitical and security interactions more effective without breaking India’s ties with the United States and Russia with China? The near future will give a definite answer to this question.


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