NEW DELHI — The defense agreement made between India and Russia on Saturday is being viewed by some analysts as a resurrection of a strategic partnership between the two countries following a four-year gap in defense ties.
However, this spurt in big-ticket defense programs, worth a total of $10 billion, with Russia after 2012 is not being taken as a course correction by India away from United States, with whom the ruling Modi government warmed up after coming to power in mid-2014.
"There is no correction away from USA. India has a strong and long-standing defense partnership with Russia, which gets reinforced periodically," said Vivek Rae, the Indian Ministry of Defence's (MoD) former director general of acquisition. "Russia has been a reliable friend and partner for several decades. This is a strategic partnership which has stood the test of time."
The agreement is for the purchase of $5 billion worth of S-400 Tiumf air defense systems, four stealth frigates for $4 billion and the formation of a joint venture to manufacture Kampov-226T light
utility helicopters in India worth more than $1 billion.
An MoD official said most of the negotiations for the S-400 systems are complete and should be among the first contracts to be inked in the near future. The final contracts for the defense programs are likely to be finalized in the next six months, the MoD official added.
The last major defense deal between India and Russia was signed in 2012, which included a $1.6 billion deal for India to purchase 42 Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighter jets and a $1.3 billion contract for the delivery of 71 Mi-17 V5 helicopters.
While Russia had been the traditional supplier of weaponry to India over the last decade, the US emerged as one of the largest suppliers of weaponry contracting deals, worth more than the $10 billion Indo-Russia deal. Ties between the US and India have improved during the ruling Modi government, and the two countries in July inked the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement, which provides access to supplies, spare parts and services from each other's land facilities, air bases and ports.
Bharat Karnad, professor of national security studies at the Centre for Policy Research think tank, said the $10 billion defense program is a balancing act between the US and Russia.
"It is an equilibrating measure," Karnad said.
Emphasizing the strategic ties between India and Russia, he added: "These deals are a reassurance that there is Russia to fall back on."
Rahul Bhonsle, a retired Indian Army brigadier and defense analyst, said defense purchases are well spread out among India's strategic partners. "The acquisitions were in the pipeline and India has fine-tuned procurement by spreading the same across strategic partners who are willing to provide weapons and equipment with cutting-edge technologies without too many restrictions. Thus most combat systems are likely to be procured from either Russia, France or Israel, while the logistics support tranche could be from the United States, except for the Navy."
According to Bhonsle, the US will provide "top-end systems to the Indian Navy, seeing it as the gendarme of the Indian Ocean."
"India has been clear about its diversification in the defense sector with other countries, not only with the US. And defense deals are one of the instruments of foreign policy," Indrani Talukdar, a foreign policy
More than 55 percent of Indian defense forces weaponry is of Russian origin. As a result, the low quality and slow speed at which India receives spare parts for those weapons has been a major irritant. India began looking for other sources of weaponry after it faced such issues as well as a cost increase, according to an Indian Air Force official.
"There are problems with supply of spares, but these are not insurmountable problems," Rae, the former MoD employee, said.
Karnad agreed: "Russian spares are a problem, but with Indian companies contracted to produce many of them and the streamlining of the supply chain in Russia, the situation is set to improve. Moscow is now taking this seriously because it has become aware this could cost them major contracts in the future."
Although India is looking more to the West for supplies of weaponry, the country will continue to depend on Russia for the supply of weaponry and spare parts, the Indian Air Force official said, adding that dependence will likely be reduced through indigenization.
However, Bhonsle said that "shifting dependency [on weaponry] from one global player to another is not in India's short- as well as long-term interests."