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India Is Still Buying The Best Russian Weapons

October 30, 2018

In the span of a month Delhi signed arms deals with Moscow worth several billion dollars. The huge sum covers entire regiments of the S-400 Triumph air defense system, which were already being negotiated two years ago, and a quartet of Talwar-class frigates. The latter are based on an upgraded Krivak III renamed the Admiral Grigorovich-class and the consensus on their deployment is to equip the Indian Navy (IN) with more BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles.

Although the timeline for deliveries of the S-400’s are unclear, the new Talwar-class frigates will arrive in separate batches. The first two hulls assembled in Russia can be launched by 2020 while the next two are built in a local shipyard.

The valuation for both deals could reach a staggering $7.2 billion with 60% of the amount covering the S-400, whose range exceeds the S-300’s already used by the Indian military. Russian state media never fail to emphasize the S-400’s capabilities as an anti-aircraft and anti-missile platform. Although China and India’s military industries are able to build surface-to-air missiles, their separate acquisitions of S-400 suggests they want a viable deterrent against ballistic and cruise missiles from neighboring adversaries. It also helps that their militaries have decades of experience operating Soviet-era air defense weaponry.

Ordering the S-400 isn’t without risks, however. The US’ aggressive sanctioning of Russian exports means it can block the dollar transfers needed to pay for arms deals. This is why some sources claim Delhi and Moscow are transacting with national currencies since the two allies have other lucrative projects at various stages of negotiation. During this month’s India-Russia summit, for example, a memorandum was signed for a collaborative effort between the two country’s space agencies.

Like the S-400, the acquisition of the Talwar-class frigates has been in the works for a number of years now. As India’s navy finds itself outmatched by the rapid build up of the Chinese PLAN at a time when Beijing is securing maritime routes with overseas bases there’s an urgency for deploying new vessels sooner rather than later. To improve its reach across the Indian Ocean and help deter Chinese territorial claims, the navy want a fleet with at least half of the US Navy’s size and strength. But this is too great a task for even local firms so buying from abroad is expedient.

With more than five decades of successful arms deals with India, Russia’s state-owned manufacturers are gunning for huge contracts that may keep them afloat throughout the 2020s–should they win any. An urgent requirement for naval helicopters remains open ended and will likely pit Russia’s main rotorcraft maker against its US rival. There’s another separate program being drawn up for diesel-electric attack submarines that need to be locally made, even if their design is foreign. Meanwhile, India’s defense ministry is preparing to relaunch a competition for more than a hundred multirole fighters.

Not to be left behind, the army is searching for a new battle rifle and an advanced combat vehicle. Although the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) can supply both at cost-effective prices, there’s a decent chance Russian companies win the contracts again after their products are evaluated. It comes to show the breadth and depth of opportunities for Russian military exports in South Asia. While India is now a strategic ally of the US in the long-term effort to contain China, the arms deals struck by Delhi and Washington, DC are peanuts compared with the ones involving Moscow.

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