NEW DELHI — India is now gearing to counter the impact of new economic sanctions on Russia by the U.S. and Europe that could hamper armaments and military spares supplies from Moscow.
Russia has been the largest arms supplier to India since the early 1970s. Today, 60% of India’s military hardware inventory is from Russia or the former Soviet Union and the bulk of India’s license-based defense manufacturing comes from Russia.
Senior government and military officials and other experts told Defense News the sanctions, put in place after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, will affect deliveries from Russia. Still, the officials, who are not authorized to speak to media, said there is no immediate threat to India’s defense preparedness as the armed forces have adequate reserves of Russian ammunition and spares.
”We are closely monitoring the impact of [financial] sanctions on Russian entities and how it will unfold [and affect] armament supplies from Russia in the future,” one of the defense officials said.
Defense officials said so far the Russian government has not officially said defense supplies to India will be delayed or stopped. Russian arms export agency Rosoboronexport executives here did not respond to requests for comment.
India, which has ordered about $8 billion worth of military supplies from Russia, faces new uncertainty. Indian military officials said they expect short-term delays in deliveries of S-400 Triumf missile systems, Grigorovich-class stealth frigates, and Kalashnikov AK 203-7.62x39mm assault rifles, as well as spares supplies for Kilo-class submarines, MiG-29 fighters, and Kamov Mi-17 military transport helicopters.
Big-ticket weapons in the pipeline like the S-400 missile system are likely to be delayed, said Satinder Kumar Saini, a military analyst and retired Indian Army lieutenant general.
Defense officials noted the new sanctions will certainly halt the financial transactions of several Russian defense companies. This will have a direct impact on India as contracts between the two countries are valued using U.S. dollar calculations, but, in some cases, the payment is made through the rupee-ruble mechanism.
”India will now propose barter trade instruments for supplies of weapons and spares with Russian defense authorities,” one of the officials added.
Gopinathan Mohan Kumar, a former Indian defense secretary, told Defense News that even if spares for past procurements are not included in the list of sanctions, “financial transactions will be seriously affected.”
Even before the present situation in Ukraine emerged, there were issues with spares and ammunition supply from the original equipment manufacturers.
India today imports over 10,000 types of spares and line replacement units worth over $500 million annually from Russia. Defense officials acknowledged efforts to indigenize spares and line replacement units for Russian weapons and platforms to reduce the dependency on imports have not been very successful, mostly, they say, because local suppliers are not given long-term commitments.
Vijainder Kumar Thakur, a Russian military expert and retired IAF wing commander, said in the short-term, it’s likely the supply of spares will be impacted. But, in the medium-turn, India’s close relations with Russia would help stabilize supply.
Kumar said efficient maintenance of old equipment will depend on the inventories India has built up. Defense officials refused to say whether India will freeze payments to Russian defense manufacturers for ongoing defense supplies for past contracts.
The Indian government has focused on self-reliance in defense manufacturing. Under this plan, India has already launched domestic manufacturing of diesel-electric submarines in strategic partnership with the original manufacturers, and medium-weight multirole fighters and naval utility helicopters are also planned.
One defense official said a significant worry is the sanctions on Russian defense companies will lead to cost overruns and delays as many of the manufacturers could face bankruptcy and closure of their supply chains.
The major casualties could be the production of over 600000 AK-203 7.62x39mm assault rifles in partnership with Kalashnikov Group, and the export of Brahmos cruise missile batteries to the Philippines. Planned pitches to Indonesia and Vietnam could also take a hit.
India’s other ambitious projects for joint development of hypersonic missiles and an over-the-horizon surface radar system could face uncertainty, said a senior defense scientist who requested anonymity because he’s not authorized to comment.
India is also now unlikely to finalize any technology partnership agreement with Ukroboronprom, the umbrella corporation of Ukrainian defense companies for local production of sub-assemblies and spares for Soviet and Russian weaponry.
One Indian Air Force official said it seems India will not ever get deliveries of Vympel R-27 air-to-air missiles and upgraded kits and sub-assembly for Antonov An-32 military transport aircraft from Ukraine because the factories could be destroyed in the ongoing Russian invasion.
Indian armed forces also procured directly from Ukrainian defense companies limited quantities of LRUs and other spares for Russian BMP-2 infantry combat vehicles, Grad & Smerch multi-barrel rocket launcher systems and Mi-17V-5 helicopters.
India is exploring alternatives from other countries, and procurement of 30 armed Sea Guardian drones through a foreign military sales deal with the U.S. is in process.
Vivek Raghuvanshi is the India correspondent for Defense News.