The Ukrainian and Russian military-industrial complexes are engaged in a fierce competition for India’s arms market. India, which represents 12 percent of global arms purchases, is critical for both countries, and their rivalry will only intensify.
New Delhi is aware of Russia’s unreliability and unpredictability. India understands that Western sanctions have wreaked havoc on the Russian defense industry and seeks to diversify its arms imports, signing a growing number of contracts with NATO countries.
For India, Ukraine is becoming a vital partner. New Delhi has chosen to increase its reliance on Ukraine in the repair and modernization of Soviet weapons, which constitute an essential part of all armaments of the Armed Forces of India.
New Delhi’s decision to partner with Ukraine is a consequence of Russia’s inability to fulfill part of its Indian contracts because of the breakdown of technical cooperation between Russia and Ukraine after Russian aggression in Crimea and the Donbass. Moscow’s lack of access to the Ukrainian defense industry is costing the Russian defense sector dearly.
The Kremlin is extremely concerned about this, since the weakening of its position on the Indian market is not only a loss of profitable contracts, but also of geopolitical influence in an extremely important region. Russia’s reduced presence in India — resulting in part from Ukrainian defense competition — has generated a vacuum that will inevitably be replaced by U.S. influence.
Russia has failed to increase the quality of its weapons systems and provides regular deliveries of defective products. (For example, more than half of the 210 Su-30MK fighter jets bought by Russia are inactive due to maintenance problems).
As a result, Moscow chooses to compete unfairly and unethically.
Using a range of surreptitious hybrid tactics, the Kremlin is trying to discredit Ukraine as a reliable and honest partner. Russian propaganda and information campaigns are regularly carried out to spread the false narrative that Ukraine and its military-industrial complex produce defective products, are massively corrupt and engage in illicit arms trafficking around the world. This information warfare is conducted not only in the Indian and Ukrainian press, but also in the international media, including American media, as well as in the official bulletins of Russian propaganda such as RT, Sputnik and others.
Russia spreads this false narrative to think tanks, nongovernmental organizations and public opinion leaders, who serve as “useful idiots” in the hands of Russian special services.
Yet, despite Russia’s attacks and the incredible damage inflicted on Ukrainian-Indian military-technical cooperation, the Ukrainian defense industry is steadily expanding its presence on the Indian armaments market — replacing Russia.
As of now, there are 400 contracts between India and Ukraine. The most promising areas of cooperation include:
- Modernizing of Indian tanks and armored vehicles and equipping them with guided missiles.
- Modernizing Indian radars and air defense assets.
- Designing and manufacturing Indian ships of various classes.
- Supplying components for existing Indian ships and submarines.
- Maintaining Indian aircraft and helicopters.
- Implementing joint Ukrainian-Indian research and development projects.
Because of Russia’s increasingly cozy relations with China and Pakistan, India needs a strong external ally, and for this reason it is developing a strategic partnership with the United States. This process is also driven by New Delhi’s interest in supporting U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and its concern for China’s assertive policies in the South China Sea.
A critical aspect of the emerging U.S.-Indian strategic partnership is military-technical cooperation. Since 2011, the United States has successfully realized its interests in the Indian market, becoming a top arms supplier — after Russia — for the Indian Army. In 2012, the U.S. and India signed a military-technical cooperation document; and since 2008, U.S. weapons sales have increased from about $1 billion to more than $15 billion.
During his last visit to India, U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis emphasized the readiness of the United States to build on this cooperation, which was echoed by Indian Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
It is premature to conclude that Russia will lose the Indian market. Because of inertia and the significant proportion of Soviet and Russian armaments used by the Armed Forces of India, Moscow could remain India’s principal partner for a long time, albeit steadily losing its share of the market.
By leveraging the capacity of the Ukrainian defense industry to displace Russia in some areas, the United States could generate better conditions for American defense firms in India and accelerate its strategic partnership with India. Today, Russia is substantially limited as it seeks to find new partners in military-technical cooperation around the world. As China advances its own indigenous defense industry and reduces its reliance on Russia, India will become the largest foreign client and financier of the Russian military-industrial complex.
The Kremlin’s loss of the Indian market will significantly limit the ability of Russia to develop and manufacture new weapons. The United States has an interest in this. Ukraine has an interest in this. They must work together to achieve these joint interests and undercut Russia’s ability to wage wars around the world.
Pavlo Bаrbul is the CEO of Spets Techno Export, which is a subsidiary of Ukrainian defense company Ukroboronprom.