Explanation: How dependent is India on Russian weapons?

Although the most immediate impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on India is the evacuation of thousands of Indian students who are stuck there, it becomes clear that there will also be long-term implications.

New Delhi tried to walk a fine linenegotiating its relations with the United States and other Western nations on the one hand, and historical and strategic ties with Russia on the other, even as its position becomes increasingly critical for Russia as its forces continue to fight in Ukrainian cities.

However, both punishments imposed by the United States and other countries on Russia, and how Russia views Delhi’s slowly changing position will have a long-term impact, especially on the decades-old defense trade between the two .

How strong are Indian and Russian defense ties?

India depended almost solely on the British and other Western countries for its arms imports immediately after independence. But this reliance faded, and by the 1970s India was importing several weapon systems from the USSR, making it the country’s largest defense importer for decades when it came to weapon systems. basic and sophisticated weapons. In fact, it has provided some of the most sensitive and important weapon platforms that India has needed from time to time, including nuclear submarines, aircraft carriers, tanks, guns , fighter jets and missiles.

According to several people, the defense trade, which remains important, is one of the important causes why India has not openly taken a critical position against Russia. However, Indo-Russian relations cannot be considered solely from this angle.

The legacy of buying weapons from Russia has made India somewhat dependent on it, and even though India has tried to broaden the base of countries it buys new military systems from, the weapons ethnic Russians still have the lion’s share. According to one estimate, the share of weapons and platforms of Russian origin in the Indian armed forces amounts to 85%.

According to an April 2020 working paper published by Sameer Lalwani of the Stimson Center, along with other researchers, “the extent of Russian-origin platforms in the Indian military – which, according to our analysis, makes up 85% of India’s major weapons systems rather than the oft-quoted 60 percent – created a “lock-in” effect, while the depth of support for India’s technology base and strategic systems generated a relatively high degree of debt and trust in key strategic circles.

However, he added that the paper found “little evidence that India’s expanded arms collaboration and geopolitical relationship with Russia led to a diffusion of strategic thinking that directly or indirectly shaped the military doctrine”.

A soldier waves from a military truck parked on a street in Mykolaivka, in the Donetsk region, the territory controlled by pro-Russian militants, in eastern Ukraine, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022. (AP Photo)

What is the value of the weapons that India bought from Russia?

Russia is the second largest arms exporter in the world, just after the United States. In the five-year period between 2016 and 2020, America’s share of the global arms trade was 37%, compared to Russia’s 20%, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute ( SIPRI), which tracks the global arms trade and the military. spent.

For Russia, India is the biggest importer, and for India, Russia is the biggest arms transfer exporter. Between 2000 and 2020, Russia accounted for 66.5% of India’s arms imports. Of the $53.85 billion spent by India during the period on arms imports, $35.82 billion went to Russia. During the same period, imports from the United States amounted to $4.4 billion and those from Israel to $4.1 billion.

According to a SIPRI report on trends in international arms transfers published in March 2021, between 2016 and 2020, Russia delivered major weapons to 45 states. “India remained the main recipient of Russian weapons in 2016-2020, accounting for 23% of the total, followed by China (18%).

Russia’s share of Indian arms imports fell to around 50% between 2016 and 2020, but it still remained the largest importer. SIPRI noted that although “several major Russian arms deals with India, including for fighter jets, have been concluded by 2020, India has placed new orders for a variety of weapons Russians in 2019-2020. The ensuing deliveries are likely to lead to an increase in Russian arms exports over the next five years.

What kinds of weapons has Russia given to India?

Almost everything, over the years. Currently, two major defense agreements between India and Russia could be jeopardized by the current crisis. The first, and most important, is the agreement to purchase five units of the state-of-the-art S-400 Triumf air defense system. It is among the most advanced in the world and India placed an order for five units for around $5 billion in 2018. The first unit was delivered in December 2021 and was deployed to an army base in the Indian air force in Punjab.

The deal was under threat of US sanctions, even though the US had yet to make a decision. But the new round of sanctions against Russia could sound the alarm.

The S-400 is considered one of the most advanced air defense systems in the world. (Express Archive)

Similarly, India and Russia had just signed an agreement to manufacture around 6 lakh AK 203s at a factory in Amethi.

But apart from these ongoing projects, Russia has also offered to manufacture six conventional AIP-powered submarines for the navy under the P75-I project, along with four other international bidders. The last call has not yet been answered.

In fact, the first submarine India ever had was also Soviet. The first Foxtrot-class submarine purchased from the USSR entered service in India in 1967 as INS Kalvari. Of the total 16 conventional diesel-electric submarines with the Indian Navy, eight are Kilo-class, of Soviet origin.

India is also in talks with Russia to lease two nuclear ballistic submarines, Chakra 3 and Chakra 4, the first of which is expected to be delivered by 2025. Also previously, INS Chakra 1 and INS Chakra 2 were Russian vessels , both were returned after their leases expired. India has commissioned one of the four locally-built ballistic nuclear submarines under construction. However, much of the technology is based on Russian platforms.

The only aircraft carrier in service with India, INS Vikramaditya is a Soviet-made Kiev-class ship that entered service for the Indian Navy in 2013. India’s first locally-built aircraft carrier is set to enter service This year.

India’s missile program was developed with significant help from Russia or the Soviets earlier. The BrahMos missile, which India will soon start exporting, was jointly developed with Russia.

Russia has also been a major exporter of fighter jets to India, including hundreds of Sukhoi and MiG aircraft.

BrahMos missiles on display during a rehearsal for the Republic Day Parade in Delhi. (AP Photo/File)

A US Congressional Research Service report on Russia’s arms sales and defense industry, published in October 2021, cited figures from the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Military Balance 2021 report. , a think tank on global security, political risk and military conflict, that “India’s current military arsenal is heavily stocked with Russian-made or Russian-designed equipment.”

He mentioned that the main battle tank force of the Indian Army is composed mainly of Russian T-72M1s (66%) and T-90S (30%).
The Indian Navy’s only operational aircraft carrier is a refurbished Soviet-era ship, and all of its combat and ground-attack aircraft are either Russian-made or produced in India under license (the fleet of Navy fighters includes 43 MiG-29K / KUB). Four of the navy’s 10 guided-missile destroyers are of the Russian Kashin class, and 6 of its 17 frigates are of the Russian Talwar class.

The Indian Air Force’s fleet of 667 ground attack fighters (FGA) is 71% Russian (39% Su-30, 22% MiG-21, 9% MiG- 29). The service’s six tankers are Russian-made Il-78s.

Is India trying to expand its weapons base?

In recent years, there has been a conscious effort to expand the bases of the weapons platform not only to other countries, but also domestically.

SIPRI noted in its report on trends in international arms transfers last year that between 2011-2015 and 2016-2020, India’s arms imports decreased by 33%. “Russia was India’s largest arms supplier in 2011-15 and 2016-20. However, deliveries from Russia fell by 53% between the two periods and its share in India’s total arms imports fell from 70% to 49%. In 2011-2015, the United States was India’s second largest arms supplier, but in 2016-2020, India’s arms imports from the United States were 46% lower than those of India. the previous five-year period, making the United States India’s fourth-largest supplier in 2016-20. »

France and Israel were India’s second and third largest arms suppliers in 2016-2020, he said.

According to the report, “India’s overall decline in arms imports between 2011-2015 and 2016-2020 appears to be mainly due to its complex and time-consuming procurement processes, combined with its attempts to reduce its dependence on regard to Russian weapons by diversifying its supply network”. arms suppliers. As India perceives growing threats from Pakistan and China and its ambitious plans to produce its own major weapons have been significantly delayed, it is planning large-scale arms import programs.

He added that based on the exceptional deliveries of fighter jets, air defense systems, ships and submarines from India, India’s arms imports are expected to increase over the next five years. years.

But it is important for India to diversify its base, not to become too dependent on one nation, because it can become a lever that can be exploited by that nation.

The US Congress report said, “Many analysts in India and beyond conclude that the Indian military cannot function effectively without Russian-supplied equipment and will continue to rely on Russian weapons systems in the short term. and in the medium term… In this sense, a large part of Moscow’s army Influence in India comes from its desire to supply weapons systems and technologies that no other country will export to the India. Russia also continues to offer advanced weapons platforms at relatively attractive prices.

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