Can Moscow retain the Indian arms market?

2 December 2016 Leonid Nersisyan, Forbes.ru
Russia, for many years, has occupied second place, after the United States, in sales of weaponry in the global arms market. India has played a major role in this, being Russia’s biggest arms export market. What does the future look like for these two countries in the sphere of defence cooperation?
T-90 Indian Army
According to the existing contracts and the new agreement, India will receive a total of 2,121 T-90 tanks in total. Source:AP

Make in India: Russia always ready to share its technologies

A major reason for the success of Russian arms in India was that Moscow has always been willing to work on the ‘Make in India’ or localised production concept, which New Delhi has been promoting for many years.

The Government of India in November approved the signing of a new contract for licensed production of 464 T-90MS tanks – the most modern modification of this combat vehicle. 

The contracts for the supply of T-90 tanks to India have allowed Russia to retain a share of around 56% of world tank sales market. 

There are several reasons for the success of the T-90, which practically captured the entire Indian market. First, the price: even the newest T-90MS costs markedly less than any of its competitors. The price tag of Western tanks is $6 to 8 million, depending on the model and the configuration. This also happens to be around the same price as the ‘Arjun’ Indian-made tank.

Second, the significantly lower weight of the T-90, compared to Western tanks (because, instead of a place for the fourth crewmember, Russian tanks have an automatic loader), making it lighter and more mobile, which is very important in the Indian landscape.This is why the Indian military has decided not to purchase the Arjun – it weighs a little less than 60 tons (the T-90 weighs 46-48 tons, depending on the version) and has problems with running reliability.

Finally, with the help of Uralvagonzavod, experts in India have managed to build an enterprise to assemble and manufacture some of the components of the T-90. The contract is valued at approximately $2 billion. One T-90MS tank will cost the Indian budget $4.3 million – almost twice the price they paid for the earlier model – the T-90S ($2.5 million). According to the existing contracts (1,657 T-90S tanks) and the new agreement, India will receive a total of 2,121 T-90 tanks in total.  

Will the FGFA make Russian aviation industry rich?

Perhaps the most successful deal for the Russian defence industry in India was the sale of the multi-role Su-30MKI – dual-seat upgraded version of the Russian Su-27, designed specifically to meet Indian requirements. Most of these aircraft, as well as the T-90 tanks, are assembled under licence in India. India will pay almost $12 billion for 272 Su-30MKI aircraft. The Indian Air Force is already flying approximately 230 fighters of this type at the moment. The new contract is expected to be completely fulfilled in 2018-2019.  

Development of the FGFA (fifth generation fighter aircraft) is the cornerstone for the future of the Russian military aircraft industry in the world arms market. Like the Su-30, this machine is a two-seater – the Indian military prefers this, believing that two crewmembers can work more effectively than one, especially when performing attack missions. New Delhi plans buy around 200 aircraft of these aircraft in the future.  

However, not everything is proceeding smoothly with the FGFA. India signed a contract in 2010 for the preliminary design of the aircraft, worth around $300 million, after which work on the project stalled. The Indian media voiced concerns that this Russian fighter jet, according to the local military, did not correspond to the set technical-tactical characteristics. At various times, complaints were voiced against the AL-41F1 engine (insufficient thrust) and the capabilities of radar technologies to reduce radar visibility of the aircraft.

It turns out that the problems were probably quite exaggerated. The two countries have now come to an agreement that New Delhi and Moscow will each invest $4 billion in R&D. In addition, the number of parts to be manufactured in India has increased. Now the country’s share is approximately 40%, compared to about 25% earlier.

Delhi rescues Russian ships

The Ukrainian crisis has led to Kiev cancelling all its military-technical cooperation with Russia. The Russian defence industry was able to cope quite quickly when it came to replacement of the majority of products earlier made in Ukraine. One exception was the gas turbine engines for Project 11356 frigates.

The most convenient way out of this situation, was to sell these ships to India, to which New Delhi agreed – because the country had earlier bought similar products from Russia. The frigates of Project 1135.6 ‘Talwar’ are the predecessors of Project 11356, and were developed specifically for India in the early 1990s, with New Delhi buying 6 of these ships.

India has purchased two unfinished ships (they will be finished in Russia), as well as two new ones, which will be built in India within the framework of the ‘Make in India’ programme. Ukraine has agreed to supply the required engines to India. The big plus is also the fact that these ships will be equipped with the BrahMos anti-ship missiles (ASM). These ASM will soon also equip the Su-30MKI fighter jets and, in the future, the FGFA.  

A fly in the ointment

These collaborations may appear as though defence cooperation between Russia and India has been smooth sailing and hardly any problems exist for Moscow in this direction. However, this has not been the case for quite a while now. All major arms exporters are actively seeking to break into the tempting Indian market. The USA and France have significantly increased their share in the Indian market, largely due to the weakness of Russian proposals for certain items.

India, for example, held a tender for an MMRCA (Medium multi-role combat aircraft), for the supply of 126 light fighter jets to the country. The Russian MiG-35, which is a much modernized version of the current MiG-29, in fact existed only on paper, so it was not even seriously considered.

Eventually the French won this tender with their ‘Rafale’ fighter jet. However, the Indian government has bought only 36 of these aircraft, as the French arms dealers revised their prices, making them higher than those of the heavy Su-30MKI, and refused to share their production technologies with India.

Thus, the need for a lightweight fighter jet still exists in Delhi, but Russia still has nothing special to offer here – the MiG-35 being too expensive for a light fighter (largely due to the use of two engines), while other alternatives are not available. Therefore, India’s choice, logically, may fall on the long proven American single-engine F-16 fighter jet.

Another troublesome project is the MTA (Multi-role Transport Aircraft) – a tactical military transport aircraft, which was to replace more than 100 old An-32 transporters being used by the Indian Air Force, as well as the AN-12, AN-26 and AN-72 in the Russian Aerospace Forces. The project promised great profits and huge production volumes, but misunderstandings arose between the parties, even before one prototype “in the metal” could be built.

In 2015, India officially withdrew from the project. Judging by what appeared in the media, the main problem was the difference when it came to the engines that were to be used in the aircraft. Russia proposed to install a new modification of the time-tested PS-90, while India sought the creation of a completely new engine, fitted with a digital control system (FADEC), which ensured minimum fuel consumption.

This loss for the United Aircraft Corporation has been a big setback, because the Russian Aerospace Forces also needed the MTA. With reduced funding, because of the economic crisis, building such an aircraft without external financing will be very difficult. It may be worthwhile to try to revive this project, especially since India does not have many alternatives – either purchase a rather expensive American C-130, which they will hardly allow to be assembled in India, or the rather poor-performing European A-400M.

First published in Russian by Forbes.ru.

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