NEW DELHI — Russia has agreed to allow its defense companies to forge direct ties with Indian defense companies — both public and private sector — to supply, service and jointly manufacture spares for use by Indian defense forces.

So far, Rosoboronexport of Russia is the sole contractor for spares for a variety of Russian defense platforms and weapons in use by the Indian defense forces, which as been the case for the last five decades.

India buys Russian spares at a cost of more than $2 billion annually for multiple weapons and platforms.

Indian defense companies are not permitted to tie up directly with Russian manufacturing companies for the supply of additional spares, and subsystems and all contracts are routed through Rosoboronexport.

"Supply of spares on time and on 'right price' has been the main problem with Russian systems, and overall problems of spares is critical," a top Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) official said.

The Indian Navy still continues to face problems in the procurment of critical spares parts for its Russian Kilo-class submarines, warships and aircraft carriers, missiles, electronic warfare control systems, radar communication tools, and navigation systems.

Despite repeated requests, Russian Embassy officials were unavailable for comment.

"Hitherto, all sales of military equipment and spares was only through Rosoboronexport. It made the items expensive and increased the lead time to 12-14 months," Shyam Kumar Singh, a retired Indian Navy captain, said.

"Lack of standardization, high cost, variable quality [and] delay has been the main problem with Russian spares," Vivek Rae, MoD's former director general for defense acquisition, said.

India has been negotiating with Russia for a long time to allow direct ties between the suppliers of spares in Russia and Indian companies. "But Rosoboronexport was always reluctant to transfer technology of making spares," Rae added.

However, Bharat Karnad, a professor of national security studies at the Centre for Policy Research, said that "the Indian armed services/MoD/Department of Defence Production have failed to bring their spares requirements in sync with the Soviet/Russian stores' indenting and production processes."

Indicating that the complaint against Russian spares could be a case for imports from Western countries, Karnad said: "The malign reason for this state of affairs, at least in recent times, may be that it permits the Indian armed services to complain about readiness about Russian equipment and to justify the switch to Western armaments and weapons platforms."

Though Singh wonders: "Why [has the] MoD has not put in a mechanism for supply of spares from domestic sources as an alternative?"

Since the early 1960s, India is estimated to have acquired military equipment worth billions of dollars from Moscow, which now provides for more than 60 percent of the three services' equipment inventory. But the current serviceability state of this equipment, particularly those with the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Navy, is less than 50 percent because of a lack of spares.

The problem is particularly acute in the case of the Sukhoi Su-30 fighter aircraft, which is made under license here by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. More than 200 Su-30 fighters are already in service with the IAF. In addition, the IAF and Army Mi-series helicopter fleet also faces a shortage of spares.

Additionally, the Army faces delays in the supply of spares for T-72 and T-90 tanks; BMP-2 infantry combat vehicles; Smerch and Grad multibarrel launchers; and Kvadrat, Pechora, Shilka and Tunguska air defense systems, a senior Army official said.

"Servicing of MiG-29K and Kamov helicopters" is a severe problem due to lack of spares," an Indian Navy official said.

Suggesting ways to improve the supply of spares, an IAF official said: "Long-term supply agreements and long-term repair agreements with (Russian) original equipment manufacturers is the solution."

And the top MoD official offered: "Mandatory spares should be procured for at least two-year requirements except life-critical consumables."

Vivek Raghuvanshi is the India correspondent for Defense News.

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