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Indo Russian Military technical cooperation: Implications for southern Asia

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Indo-Russian Military Technical Cooperation: Implications for Southern Asia.
Author/s: Anupam Srivastava
Issue: Spring, 1999

Page [1] [2]

The region of Southern Asia has inherited its own share of the flux and countercurrents generated with the end of the cold war.(1) International arms control initiatives have sought to deepen and widen adherence to the norms, outlooks, and interests enshrined in multilateral security regimes that seek to stem or reverse the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. These initiatives have engendered greater international consensus but also have brought the core of intractable issues to the fore. Within the national contexts, Russia, as the successor to the Soviet Union, is struggling to come to terms with being a nation-state instead of an empire; to devise mutually acceptable relations with the former Soviet republics; and to establish its centrality within the post-Soviet space. India, whose economic restructuring roughly coincided with the end of the cold war, is searching for a way to facilitate closer integration into the global economic matrix without compromising its legitimate security concerns in the process. And China, consolidating nearly two decades of state-guided economic reforms, is modernizing its armed forces and appears to be on course to occupying a central position in the international community.

It is within this fluid context that I analyze Indo-Russian relations and examine their implications for the balance of forces and emerging strategic equation in Southern Asia. In the first section I examine the national issues within Russia and India that propel them to seek closer bilateral ties. In the following section I discuss the current relations between the two in the security sphere (arms acquisitions, technology transfers, future areas of cooperation, and so forth). In the final section I analyze the implications of expanding Indo-Russian relations for countries in the strategic neighborhood, with particular attention to Pakistan and China.


The Russian Case

To Russia devolved the nuclear mantle following the disintegration of the Soviet Union. However, this inheritance has produced a fair share of difficulties as the nation searches within for an acceptable status in the international community and for a way to forge its relations with countries of the former Soviet Union (FSU), the extended neighborhood (Western Europe and central and western Asia), and beyond (particularly the United States). The continued search for its national identity impinges sharply on the Russian strategic calculus in dealing with these other nations. As the national elite seek to situate these interactions within the ebb and flow of Russian history, an assortment of developmental issues emerge that explain the scope of its foreign policy decisions. An eclectic, albeit spare, survey of issue areas illustrates this dynamic.

Russia's inability to impede the eastward expansion of NATO has led to a considerable shrinkage of its sphere of influence within the region. As Russia seeks to reestablish its centrality within the post-Soviet space, it has had to enter into protracted negotiations with countries of the former Soviet Union. For the latter, these negotiations afford the means to harness Russia's (latent) hegemonic aspirations by binding its behavior to an institutionalized framework of relations. For Russia, on the other hand, they provide an avenue to reestablish its salience in the region. Further, Russia has sought to compensate for its shrinking sphere of influence by deepening its strategic relationship with China and India. A series of diplomatic initiatives has transformed its relationship with China from one of "containment" to "overt engagement." With India, it has sought to elevate the traditional close relation with the Soviet Union into a "strategic" one.

In addition, Russia has sought, particularly since 1993-94, to substantially increase its global sale of advanced conventional weapons (ACWs). Restructuring of the defense sector, including privatization of defense industries, has been attempted to generate additional revenue that will both finance further research and development (R&D) and ease the burden on the state of implementing badly needed economic reforms. While this has enabled Russian gross arms sales to increase from $1.5 billion in 1994 to $4.3 billion in 1997-98, the performance of private firms, as compared to the state-run Rosvorouzhenie, has brought into question the wisdom of further decentralization and privatization in the defense sector. Notwithstanding this dilemma, it is clear that arms sales, particularly those embedded with technology transfers, are intended not only to generate revenue but also to serve as an influential policy tool in dealing with the recipient states. It is pertinent to note here that as Russia enters into defense agreements involving technology transfers and joint production of weapons systems (with production sites often located within the recipient country), it augments other countries' capacity to emerge as commercial competitors to Russia in the global arms market. Thus, it is useful to speculate: Is Russian "compulsion" to enter into such agreements actually fostering competition in the process? Are the recipient countries in a position to take advantage of the supplier's dependency syndrome faced by Russia?

In analyzing Russia's evolving relationship with the West, several contentious issues come to the fore. Leaving aside the terms of assistance to Russia's economy, which is on the verge of collapse, a primary impediment remains the inexorable eastward expansion of NATO. Another major hurdle relates to the U.S. emphasis on rejuvenating and expanding its national missile defense (NMD) concept, which seeks to erect an impregnable fortification against strategic missiles. Under the current formulation, often denoted as the "3 + 3" concept, the United States would make a decision in the year 2000 on whether or not to erect the NMD shield over the continental United States. If the decision is made to do so, the NMD is expected to be put into place by 2003.

Although a discussion of the NMD is beyond the scope of this study, several components of the NMD violate the terms of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, as well as the 1974 ABM Protocol.(2) Further, any U.S. attempt to extend this umbrella to its allies (say, in East Asia) under the aegis of the Theater Missile Defenses (TMD), would worsen the strategic force balance for Russia against those states.(3) These and other problems continue to dog Russian integration into the "core" of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). This is especially significant because MTCR faces a more fundamental dilemma between whether it is an internal policy coordination regime or a global missile proliferation control regime.(4) The current mandate of MTCR not only limits its scope of action, but also complicates its interaction with member states such as Russia (and aspirants such as Ukraine and Israel).

The above discussion provides the substantive context within which to examine Russia's decision to elevate its relationship with India into one of a "strategic partnership." Given Russian vulnerability to deepening strategic relations with recipient states, the risk is significantly reduced when dealing with "friendly" states (including India, Iran, North Korea, and now, China). Russia's new defense cooperation with India should be pursued under the aegis of military technical cooperation encompassing the political, economic, and security spheres. It seeks to provide the institutional framework for the two countries to significantly deepen and widen their bilateral cooperation, building on the congruence in their strategic outlooks and priorities.

The Indian Case

For India, its own brand of perestroika (massive economic restructuring) and glasnost (opening up to the global economy) roughly coincided with the break-up of the Soviet Union and emergence of Russia as the successor state. Although examination of the economic reforms in India is not within the purview of this study, it is important to note that the net sum of deregulation and reforms undertaken since July 1991 has been larger than those effected in the previous forty-four years since independence (in August 1947). Domestic public policy discourse on the economic front is imbued with a new sense of pragmatism. Measures that enhance profitability, productivity, capital formation, advanced technology-embedded factors of production, and identification of competitive niches for the domestic industry, all compete with the "sacred cow" of distributional egalitarianism as criteria for the measurement of success of a policy choice. The same pragmatism increasingly animates the domestic security debate in India.

Armed forces modernization. The last major overhaul of the defense inventory and "limited" force modernization was undertaken in India during the early to mid-1980s. Thus, another such exercise was long overdue. Since budgetary constraints were slightly eased in the early 1990s, the domestic security establishment has been engaged in such a task. According to the latest figures, India's defense budget for the period 1997-2001 is approximately 2 trillion rupees (U.S.$51 billion), with the annual budget for fiscal 1998-99 at $10.1 billion.(5) In inflation-adjusted terms, the real growth in the annual budget represents a modest rise of about 10 percent. However, in the wake of the nuclear tests conducted by India in May 1998, Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha announced significantly higher allocations for the Department of Atomic Energy (62 percent) and the Defense Research and Development Organization (approximately 48 percent). He also assured that additional budgetary allocations will be made as and when necessary to ensure that the country's defense preparedness and other security priorities are not compromised.(6)

India's defense planners envisage the future face of its armed forces as leaner, more mechanized, and more modem. Of course, such an exercise would require not only significant resource commitment but also clarification of the country's strategic doctrine. The first three wars (1947-48, 1962, and 1965) had been waged on domestic soil and contiguous enemy territory, and in each case the army had played the most significant role, with limited support from the air force and the navy. The 1971-72 war is the only instance where integrated missions were executed with some success. Thus, the air force provided air cover to the attacking ground troops in addition to other support missions, while the navy engaged in limited shelling of the Karachi harbor to divert Pakistani troops from the invading Indian ground forces. It was only later that strategic review of the experiences of the war highlighted the need to significantly upgrade the role and strike power of the navy and the air force so that the three can act in concert where the situation so warrants.

Armed force modernization, with an emphasis on greater mechanization, would imply reconstitution of the size of the three services but also entail reconfiguration of their respective roles. As can be readily imagined, this complex issue has generated a broad range of opinions. National debate remains inconclusive on what the optimum size of the forces should be and whether it would require forcible retirement, smaller recruitment, or both. Would conscription be a good idea? Would conscripts have the same level of training (and motivation) to execute all (especially hazardous) missions? Can they be mobilized rapidly? Would the higher costs of recruitment and training be offset by a leaner force?(7)

The financial aspects of the above issues have generated considerable policy debate with the adoption by the Indian Parliament of the recommendations of the Fifth Pay Commission. While the total emoluments package to each soldier has been increased, it is not clear how the defense budget would cope with the additional resources required to put it into effect. Further, the per capita investment to maintain a soldier in the infantry (cost of equipment plus training) is considerably lower than maintaining one in the mechanized divisions. Likewise, the cost of maintaining a soldier in the army is considerably lower for a member of the navy, and both are considerably lower than in the air force. Is such a reconstitution warranted, and if so, how is it to be financed?

Internal Peacekeeping Missions versus External Security Dimensions. The financial battle outlined above makes it even more imperative to clarify the strategic doctrine of the country. Critics concede that the pace of technological growth has revolutionized modern warfare. Security planners around the world are grappling with the phenomenon called "Revolution in Military Affairs" (RMA), or its derivative, "Revolution in Military Technology" (RMT). Indian security elite are engaged in a similar exercise to analyze the implications of RMA and RMT for the regional theater and force requirements to meet such threats in the first quarter of the next century.(8) The critics concede that for certain strategic missions, such as the ones that India undertook in the 1980s (Sri Lanka and Maldives), it is vital to bolster capacity for rapid deployment of forces in farflung theaters. But that is precisely why the country should clearly enunciate its strategic doctrine--its core missions versus other priorities, and so forth.

This has become especially important following the rise of ethno-national strife in the northeastern and northwestern parts of the country, which received generous insurrectionary support from across the border, making internal security an increasingly important mission for the armed forces.(9) These developments tax the resources of the armed forces and draw them away from their core mission, defense of the nation from external threats. It is imperative that a national consensus be forged on the devolution of responsibilities for the state police, internal security forces (such as the Border Security Force, Central Reserve Police Force, and Indo-Tibetan Border Police), and the armed forces.
Meeting internal security threats would require small arms and ammunition and mobile forces that can deploy and meet insurrectionary challenges in, among others, inhospitable mountainous terrain. The Indian defense industry can meet much of the demand for such weapons, but increasing sophistication of the "enemy's" war-fighting capability means continuous upgrading and refinement of retaliatory capacity. Arms acquisition to meet external threats is of a different order of magnitude, and the domestic industry is hard-pressed to meet most of those demands.

Indian Nuclear Tests: Formulating a National Security Doctrine. India conducted five nuclear tests between 11 and 13 May 1998 to add to the lone test of May 1974. This has revived and intensified debate on the need for an explicitly enunciated strategic doctrine for the country. Policy analysts had distilled various components of what was called the "implicit" military doctrine of India.(10) In the post-test context, the domestic security establishment has been engaged in devising the new command, control, communications, and intelligence ([C.sup.3] I) network that will be required to operationalize the minimum nuclear deterrent (MND) that the leadership is seeking. The MND is part of the ongoing negotiations to determine the terms of India's joining the larger Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime (NNPR), including signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and participating in the discussions at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva relating to the proposed Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty.(11)

India's leadership has assured the continuation of its policy of non-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states and reiterated its offer to Pakistan to conclude a bilateral "no-first-use" pact on nuclear weapons, which Pakistan has declined. The leadership has also indicated that its new deterrent will continue to be "defensive in posture."(12) This implies that the size of the nuclear arsenal would be small, and deployment would be primarily in the defensive mode.(13)

Although the contours of the Indian MND are still evolving, it is safe to assume that missiles, as delivery vehicles, would be integral to this doctrine. I do not propose to discuss Indian space capabilities, which include the launch vehicles and the missile programs. But I do wish to underline that Russian assistance in this endeavor is crucial and highly valued. Although this collaboration is not strictly within the domain of their bilateral military technical cooperation, it is vital to augmenting the Indian pursuit of the classic nuclear triad, wherein nuclear weapons (tactical and strategic) can be delivered from land, air, and sea.

Within the context of India's evolving force posture and demand for weapons outlined above, Russia's importance becomes evident. Accordingly, in the next section I undertake a detailed examination of bilateral defense cooperation.


The element of trust occupies an important position among the factors that undergird India's close relationship with Russia. Policymakers in India's security establishment feel strongly about the bonds of trust that have been forged over the past four decades and have stood the test of time.(14) Despite India's strong belief in, and leadership of, the nonaligned movement, its close relations with the Soviet Union/Russia have survived major systemic changes over time, explained by the congruence of their philosophical and pragmatic outlooks and priorities.(15)

The Soviet Union had easily been the most important country as far as India's defense acquisitions were concerned. By a rough estimate, almost 60 percent of the Indian army's military hardware, 70 percent of its naval hardware, and 80 percent of air force hardware is of Soviet/Russian origin. India's current agenda of force modernization does not seek to deviate from this trajectory of close cooperation. Indeed, it seeks closer cooperation, albeit with the aims of progressively enhancing Indian self-reliance in the design and production of existing technologies/weapons systems and collaborating with Russia in joint design and production of major weapons systems and subsystems in the future.

The Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), the chief technology generator for the defense establishment, faces crucial choices in the weapons systems that it will produce and sources of technological collaboration. A problem that DRDO shares with military-industrial complexes worldwide is that unless its indigenous weapons systems can compete successfully with top-of-the-line systems produced elsewhere, the domestic armed forces would prefer off-the-shelf purchases from the global arms market. This creates a vicious cycle: the domestic armed forces would not place binding purchase orders for the domestic products unless they meet its quality and timeliness requirements. But the latter becomes feasible only when the production facility receives firm monetary commitments. The problem becomes even more acute given the increasing rate and scale of technological obsolescence worldwide, which raises the stakes for the DRDO as it seeks to avoid entering into a technological cul-de-sac, particularly since it intends to produce weapons for both the domestic and the international market.(16)

Indian Air Force (IAF)

The IAF is significantly upgradating its strike capability. In 1994 it purchased ten MiG29 aircraft from Russia to replace aging craft in the existing fleet.(17) The aircraft have already been delivered, and their assembly, plus overhaul of the existing fleet, are being undertaken at various Hindustan Aeronautic Laboratories (HAL) across the country.

The IAF ordered forty Sukhoi-30 MK aircraft from Russia in 1996. Eight of these have already been delivered, with the remainder to be delivered by 2005. The planes are being delivered to HAL as components and assembled by HAL personnel, giving them much-needed experience in handling future repairs or upgradating. Negotiations are on for future production of these aircraft in India under license. Indian scientists are working with their counterparts in Russian design and production facilities, most notably in the area of avionics (for example, the Mission Computer).(18) Although upgradating the Su aircraft will be an ongoing process, the last eight to be supplied will meet the specifications desired by the Indian side. These, to be classified as Su-30 MK-I, will then serve as the benchmark, with the previous thirty-two to be retrofitted to come up to their specifications.


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