Russia on Saturday strode back to the centre stage of India’s booming armaments market, signing deals worth more than $8 billion for helicopters, missile defence systems and warships after a rough patch in bilateral defence ties.
The agreements, the first big-ticket deals since India inked pacts worth about $3 billion for additional Su-30 jets and Mi-17 helicopters nearly four years ago, were concluded after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Vladimir Putin met on the margins of the BRICS Summit in Goa.
Defence ties between the two sides hit a low last month when Russian troops conducted their first joint exercise with Pakistani forces. The drill was originally scheduled to be held in Gilgit Baltistan, part of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, and the venue was reportedly changed after angry protests by New Delhi.
India and Russia have shared a close relationship from the Cold War era, with Moscow accounting for nearly 70% of New Delhi’s military hardware. But Russia has been irked by India looking increasingly to the US, France and Israel for defence equipment, and recently inked a deal with Pakistan for supplying gunship helicopters.
The deals concluded on Saturday had all been in the pipeline for several years. Given India’s complaints about the maintenance of Russian equipment, supply of spares and delays in implementing defence projects, some the new helicopters and warships will be built in India. The move will also dovetail into New Delhi’s “Make in India” initiative and lead to investments.
The biggest deal was the inter-governmental agreement for five S-400 Triumf air defence systems, estimated to be worth $5 billion deal. China was the first foreign customer for the S-400, which can target hostile aircraft, missiles and drones at ranges of up to 400 km.
Under a shareholder agreement, India and Russia will set up a joint venture to make the Kamov Ka-226T helicopters. The $1 billion deal is for 200 helicopters, 60 of which will be delivered by Russia in flyaway condition while the remainder will be assembled or manufactured in India.
“In the next few months, a place will be allocated (for manufacturing the helicopters) and there will be investments,” Russia’s trade and industry minister Denis Manturov told the media.
Under a $3 billion inter-governmental agreement, two Project 1135.6 stealth frigates, an improved version of the Talwar-class warships, will be supplied by Russia and two more will be built in an Indian shipyard.
The new deals “lay the foundations for deeper defence and economic ties in years ahead” and are also “in synergy with India’s technology and security priorities”, Modi said.
During the meeting, India also raised its concerns about Russia’s growing military ties with Pakistan. Foreign secretary S Jaishankar evaded a question on this issue but said: “We trust Russia fully. When we speak of friendship, the assumption is that Russia will never do anything which is not in our interest. After our discussions, we are satisfied that Russia understands India’s interest, will never do anything which is contrary to India’s interests.”