India to conduct military drills with US, Russia
India is preparing to conduct wide-ranging military exercises with the United States and Russia in November-December at a time when US-Russia ties are severely strained and New Delhi is caught in a balancing act between the two countries keeping its strategic interests in mind, two officials familiar with the move said.
The exercises with the two countries will be conducted in a tri-service format (involving their armies, navies and air forces) -- for the first time with the US and the second with Russia. The first India-US tri-services military exercise named Tiger Triumph will be held in November off India’s east coast, while the Indra drills with the Russians will be staged off the west coast in December, said one of the officials cited above.
“The upcoming exercises will illustrate that India is guided by its own national interests and the ties with the US and Russia are independent of the bilateral relationship between the two powers,” said the second official.
The existing military exercises between India and the US are army-to-army, navy-to-navy and air force-to-air force. Russia is the only country with which India has held a joint tri-service exercise so far — the first of these was held in Vladivostok in October 2017.
India and France are also in talks for a new format of exercises involving their armies, navies and air forces, the officials said.
“In the present geo-political situation, it is imperative that India maintains good relations with both the US and Russia. The fact is that Indian military has important hardware from both, and hence exercising with both the militaries would be to our advantage. The fact that both those nations want to exercise with us shows that India too is important in their calculations,” said Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retd), additional director general, Centre for Air Power Studies.
India depends on both Russia and the US for its military requirements.
Russia, the country’s top arms supplier, accounted for 58% of India’s arms imports during 2014-18, said a leading Stockholm-based think tank that measures weapons imports over five-year periods in a report released in March 2019.
The US is the third-leading supplier of weapons to India, accounting for 12% of the country’s defence imports.
Since 2008, India has bought or ordered military equipment worth $15 billion from the US, including C-130J special operations planes, C-17 transport aircraft, P-8I submarine hunter planes, Harpoon missiles, Apache and Chinook helicopters and M777 lightweight howitzers.
Last year, India signed a Rs 39,000-crore deal with Russia for the supply of S-400 Triumf air defence missile systems, brushing aside Washington’s concerns about the purchase. Both the S-400 and another deal for four frigates are being pursued despite American sanctions against Russia to punish Moscow for its interference in the 2016 US presidential elections.
The US passed the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act earlier this year.
“What we have to buy from Russia, we will buy. We do not recognize unilateral sanctions by any country. We have made known to the US that we have our own national interest and the ties with Russia are old and unique. Arrangements have been made to make payments for the systems we have contracted for from Russia,” the second official said.