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India Binges On Russian Arms Again

October 16, 2016

The military variant of the Ka-226T.

The 8th BRICS Summit in Goa played venue for historic arms deals between Delhi and Moscow this weekend. The grocery list of missiles, ships, and helicopters was known for months by the Indian press but further details only came to light on October 15. During a press conference attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Vladimir Putin 16 agreements on investments and acquisitions were signed between government agencies from India and Russia.

The specific arms purchases, whose contracts have yet to be finalized, represent capabilities that India’s military appear to have neglected. These span the S-400 Triumph air defense system, a co-production agreement for light helicopters, and at least four multirole frigates.

The S-400 Triumph is a theater defense system for securing territory from possible attack by hostile aircraft and missiles. As the successor of the notorious S-300, which was developed in the 1960s, the S-400 features improved range, missiles, and radar. When deployed in batteries of six units it functions as a protective umbrella over vital installations, cities, and national airspace. Russia’s air defense forces began adopting the S-400 in late 2014 and by 2016 a total of 16 regiments will field the system.

Delhi is reported to still be negotiating a final price for its S-400’s. When these are being delivered and how soon they come online has yet to be announced but the head of Rostec claimed India would get the complete systems by 2020. The arrival of S-400’s makes India its third international customer after China and Algeria.

A boon for India’s domestic industry, and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) in particular, is a $1 billion joint venture with Russian Helicopters to manufacture at least 200 Ka-226T light transports. The Kamov model was developed during the mid-1990s and entered service with Russia’s domestic security apparatus in 2002. The twin engine Ka-226T is a coaxial rotor helicopter from the Kamov Design Bureau, an entity that’s been subsumed by the state-owned Russian Helicopters.

The Ka-226T is recognizable for a twin-boom tail design and a rear compartment for up to nine passengers. It doesn’t have an offensive capability but its design is well-suited for operating from remote areas and on ship hangars. Once this massive Ka-226T fleet enters service nine years from now it will likely fly alongside another HAL light helicopter project.

Another boost for India’s manufacturing sector is the four Admiral Grigorovich-class frigates coveted by the navy. The frigates are modernized variants of the older Soviet Krivak-class ships. The Indian Navy’s six Krivak’s commissioned in the previous decade were reclassified under the Talwar-class. In this new deal, two completed frigates are delivered while either another one or two are assembled by a local shipyard.

Once this naval transaction is complete, the Indian Navy shall float 10 multirole frigates armed with BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles. This helps fulfill the navy’s long-term strategy for a credible oceangoing fleet that matches China’s PLAN by the late 2020s.

With decades of bilateral ties behind them, the latest alliance between Delhi and Moscow isn’t just about buying weapons. Separate agreements are in place to fund infrastructure projects, a Rosneft takeover of a local oil company, and developing nuclear power plants and alternative energy sources. But India badly needs advanced weapon systems to compensate for its technological shortcomings. So this renewed concord serves as ultimate proof that defending India and its place in the world is a work in progress.