India Shifts Allegiance From Russia To Europe

May 10, 2011

By Jay Menon

NEW DELHI — India is slowly shifting its allegiance from its traditional arms suppliers in Russia toward other European firms.

The country last month rejected Russia’s bid to sell India its MiG-35 fighter jets in the largest arms tender of this century. India also declined Boeing and Lockheed Martin’s bids for the $11 billion Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft contract. The final contenders to deliver 126 jets are the Rafale, made by France’s Dassault Aviation, and the Eurofighter Typhoon.

Senior Indian Air Force (IAF) officials say Russia’s Rosoboronexport and MiG design bureau were informed about the perceived drawbacks of the Russian offer, which included the engines. “The Russian technologies did not fit the program,” an official says, without elaborating.

In another snub of Russia, for the first time the IAF has decided to look beyond Moscow for spares for its inventory of Russian systems. India’s defense ministry recently issued global tenders worth several million dollars to international suppliers to reload its stocks of spares for its Russian-made MiG-23, MiG-27 and MiG-29 combat aircraft; IL-76 heavy-lift transports; IL-78 midair refuelers; all Mi-series helicopters; Pechora and OSA-AK air defense missiles and P-18 and P-19 radars.

The IAF has pointed out that delays in Russian after-sales support for military equipment are hurting the country’s battle readiness. “India has long leaned on Russia to equip its armed forces with military hardware. But Russia doesn’t have it all together to supply in one go anymore,” a senior IAF official tells Aviation Week.

The IAF also has problems with the serviceability of its MiG series, leading to the government informing parliament in February that it was planning to phase out the accident-prone fighter jets by 2017, when modern aircraft would be inducted.

“Many more such tenders are in the pipeline,” the IAF officials says.

But the change in stance also signifies a significant step in the government’s efforts to strengthen its rapidly depleting air power and ensure it is ready to meet the challenge of combating a resurgent China and an ambitious Pakistan.

The Indian army also has issued a request for information for acquiring active protection and countermeasure systems for its T-90S main battle tanks.

“Supply of spare parts are an issue with Russia, and though we still depend on the original equipment manufacturer for specialized spare parts, we are forced to look outside Moscow for generalized spares at a better price,” an army official says.

India has been heavily reliant on Russia, which produces about 60% of the equipment used by the Indian armed forces. India has awarded its largest arms contracts to Russia during the recent decade, including its order for the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier and a group of MiG-29K jets for the vessel, as well as frigates and a rented submarine.

India also joined forces with Russia to build BrahMos cruise missiles, a fifth-generation fighter jet and the new MTA transport plane.

Ajay Lele, a former IAF wing commander who currently works with the New Delhi-based Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, tells Aviation Week that India is exploring other options since its buying potential has increased and its nuclear market has also opened up.

“A country’s defense requirements cannot wait endlessly,” Lele says. “India wants hardware on [the] ground, hence it is looking for better technical options that include easy deliverables, state-of-[the]-art technology and economies of purchase.”

India has tripled its defense budget over the past decade – to $32 billion this year, the world’s 10th largest – in an attempt to foil a quadrupling of spending in the same period by neighboring China. The country is planning to spend $80 billion on defense in the next five years to acquire new equipment.

Kapil Kaul, chief executive of the Indian unit of consulting firm the Center for Asia-Pacific Aviation, says that geopolitical concerns are also being taken into account, as India looks to shore up relations with Europe. “[With the] European Union being an important political partner, India needs to balance the geopolitical impact,” Kaul says.



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