India and Russia are expected to ink defence deals worth billions of dollars during the meeting in Goa on Saturday between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Vladimir Putin, on the sidelines of the BRICS summit. They include the procurement from Russia of four stealth frigates and five units of the S-400 anti-aircraft system, and the announcement of a joint venture for the manufacture of 200 Kamov-226T helicopters in India.
“India and Russia have come back to a point where we are making a significant investment in the relationship with Moscow. The S-400 procurement is an example of our commitment to the relationship. We might have a better relationship with the US but it doesn’t change the content of our relationship with Moscow,” top government sources told The Indian Express.
Sources confirmed that the deal would be worth billions of dollars but did not provide an overall estimate — the missile systems alone may cost $4.5 bn.
The defence deals come in the backdrop of the first-ever joint military exercises between Russia and Pakistan on Pakistani soil after the Uri terror attacks. India had expected the exercise to be rescheduled but New Delhi understands that the Russian relationship with India remains “strong and unaffected” by Moscow’s engagement with Islamabad, said sources.
The deal for four Admiral Grigorovich-class (Project 11356) guided-missile stealth frigates will involve the direct supply of two vessels from Russia while another two will be made in India. The shipyard for making these frigates in India will be chosen by a competitive process, sources said.
The 3,620-tonne Admiral Grigorovich-class, which can be fitted with BrahMos missiles, is a derivative of the six Talwar-class frigates that Russia built for the Indian Navy between 2003 and 2013.
India will also sign an inter-government agreement for the supply of S-400 LRSAM anti-aircraft systems, which is one of the most advanced air defence options available and capable of destroying missiles, drones and incoming fighter jets within a range of 400 km.
The approval for procuring the S-400 missile systems was given by the Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar-led Defence Acquisitions Council (DAC) last December. India will be the second international buyer of the missile system after China.
Sources said that Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) will be the Indian partner for the JV to manufacture the light multipurpose Kamov-226T helicopters. An Indian private defence manufacturer may be involved at a later stage, said sources.
Kamov helicopters had undergone testing in India as part of the Reconnaissance and Surveillance Helicopter (RSH) acquisition programme, which was cancelled by the defence ministry in 2014. An agreement for these helicopters was signed by the two countries during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Moscow last December.
“The Kamov helicopter is a new model and the first real ‘Make in India’ project in a way. The same is the case with the stealth frigates,” said sources.
However, no progress is expected on the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) being jointly developed by the two countries, which remains a “sore point” for Moscow, sources said. The R&D contract for the FGFA is not expected to be signed during the meet, as India is yet to make up its mind on various issues related to the fighter aircraft.
According to sources, the two sides have also “progressed through constant engagement in exploring new ways” to the problem of spare parts for military equipment of Russian origin. Nearly two-thirds of equipment with the armed forces is of Russian and Soviet origin. For instance, the serviceability of the Russian-origin Sukhoi fighter aircraft, the main workhorse of the Indian Air Force, has been a glaring issue with barely 50 per cent of the fleet being airworthy at any given time.
“Besides showing our commitment by buying new equipment, we have to also keep the older ones running. HAL has worked out a detailed list of spares for Sukhois. The Russians have understood our requirement and will designate an OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) or agency empowered to handle the supply of spares. This will be a long-term arrangement,” said sources.