Indo Russian Military Technical Cooperation

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Indo Russian Military Technical Cooperation

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In 1995, India ordered 150 MiG-21 BIS aircraft from Russia. This attack aircraft is completely designed by Russia, and Indian input has not yet been agreed on. Russia has recently delivered two of the prototypes to the HAL unit in Bangalore where work on its upgrading and flight testing will commence soon. Russia is to transfer the technology to the HAL unit where future assembly/production is to take place.(19) Russia is designing the weaponry onboard the MiG-21 BIS to Indian specifications, but the chaff dispensers that the craft carries have been supplied by Israel.(20)

The two sides agreed in summer 1998 that India would receive the Russian Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT), also called the MiG-AT. This deal includes transfer of technology, with production to commence in 1998. The negotiated price for this trainer is almost 50 percent of that quoted for the British Hawk. The deal is even more attractive because the IAF is badly in need of more AJTs. In the current decade, accidents have increased dramatically because the IAF lacks enough good training crafts. With pilots training to fly "fourth-generation" aircraft, good-quality AJTs are particularly valuable.(21) The inertial guidance system and the engine and ring laser gyros for the AJTs are being supplied by France.

Work on upgrading India's fleet of MiG-27 aircraft has begun in earnest at HAL units around the country. This upgradation will receive beneficial spinoffs from the indigenous pool of research conducted for the light combat aircraft (LCA) that India is building. This is particularly relevant in the electronics segment (such as electronic warfare, signal jamming, communications, identification of friend or foe). It is noteworthy that keeping the MiG-27 fleet at its fighting best is a priority for the IAF, at least until all the Su-30s are delivered, assembled, flight tested, and inducted into the force. The timeline before the LCA can enter into service is even more extended.(22) Thus, the MiG-27s are expected to constitute the bulk of attack aircraft at the disposal of the IAF. Further, India is reported to be negotiating the purchase of a variation of the MiG-29 (called the MiG-29 SMT), which has yet to be inducted into the Russian air force.(23)

Indian Navy

The naval component of India's armed forces, as mentioned earlier, had not played a significant part in the four armed conflicts of the past. The domestic strategic community has been seeking to correct this imbalance and be prepared to deliver a "three-way punch" in the event of another war. A review of Indian naval build-up since the 1970s demonstrates that the navy has been engaged in serious "perspective planning" since it has had the luxury of not being expected to play a critical role in any armed conflict in the short run.

Indeed, of the three services, it is the Indian navy that has been most successful in pursuing developmental targets, by enhancing its strike power, maritime surveillance, and sealift capabilities. It has been particularly successful in indigenous efforts at modifying and upgrading diverse imported hardware and technology to suit domestic needs. This is of crucial significance to the defense community because experts have increasingly concluded that the future of deterrence is likely to be sea-based. In other words, a country's ability to conduct warfare, whether employing weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) or advanced conventional weapons, would be greatly augmented if its navy is able to successfully execute these missions.

It is in this context that one should perceive Indian naval build-up and Russia's collaboration in it. India has ordered two kilo-class submarines from Russia, and negotiations are under way to purchase Krivak III frigates as well. The navy will require $75 million for medium-term refits of the kilo-class submarines, with the work to be done in St. Petersburg, Russia. In addition, it needs another $50 million to upgrade four Foxtrot class submarines that it purchased from Russia.

The navy is finalizing negotiations with Russia for the purchase of six Ilyushin-78 planes, beginning with the delivery of two.(24) Two or three of these planes are expected to provide air-to-air refueling facilities for the front-line aircraft, including the LCA.(25) The remainder are expected to provide the platform for an airborne warning and control system (AWACS) by mounting a rotordome on the Ilyushins, and the on-board radar, with 360-degree coverage, to provide on-site intelligence. The radar has been indigenously produced, and the problem surrounding its miniaturization is expected to be resolved soon with active Israeli help. The rotordome has undergone successful experimental testing on the Avro aircraft and soon will be mounted atop the 11-78s. Providing refueling or serving as AWACS platform are mutually exclusive functions given the space constraints on board the craft. Acquisition of the Ilyushins and induction into their respective roles will tremendously enhance Indian capability to conduct both intrusive surveillance and deep strikes of strategic Pakistani territory. By almost any estimate, recent naval purchases are to be regarded as major force multipliers.

From the navy's long "wish-list" from Russia, another item of special significance is the Admiral Gorshkov. Built in 1984 and decommissioned in 1995, this aircraft carder is being overhauled for the Indian navy, and there have been reports that a modification of the MiG-29, called the MiG-29 SMT, has been tested for operating off the Gorshkov.(26) India is also reported to be negotiating the purchase of the Russian KamovV (aka Black Shark). This is a highly sophisticated antisubmarine, or submarine-hunting device that sends out deep sonar to accurately determine the location of an enemy submarine and eliminate it. There are unconfirmed reports that Russia is assisting Indian scientists in improving the accuracy of the underwater stage of the launch of its submarine-launched ballistic missile Sagarika.(27) These two would significantly upgrade Indian naval capacity to safeguard its territorial waters and patrol the region beyond.

Indian Army

As part of their military technical cooperation, India and Russia in 1996 formalized the Joint Indo-Russian Working Group (JIRWOG). This group seeks to organize bilateral defense cooperation along three levels: (a) It meets every six months to one year and is mandated to take care of older or existing servicing contracts for all three services; (b) the Military Technical Group meets at the joint secretary level to chart future areas of cooperation; (c) service-to-service contacts formalized during the visit of Russia's defense minister, General Rodionov, aim to clarify many operational aspects of service-to-service cooperation; it also involves exchange of officers, sharing information concerning military exercises, and so forth.

The Indian army is negotiating the purchase of 155 mm self-propelled guns (SPGs). Because Russia currently produces ammunition for the 152 guns, it wants India to pay for the R&D to develop ammunition for the 155 mm guns before commercial production becomes possible. India, in turn, insists that in a buyer's market, it should not be expected to pay extra above the actual cost of the ammunition that it will purchase.

The Indian army intends to mount the 155 mm guns on the chassis of the T-72 tanks that are being produced at Avadi in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. However, the user trials of these tanks have not been very successful so far.(28) Negotiations are also on for the purchase of Russia's newest T-90C tanks.(29) The advantage of the 155 mm SPGs are that they provide illumination (perhaps some of the shells will be used as tracers to light the sky and help pinpoint enemy locations) and augment night-fighting capability; they provide more effective ammunition (over the 152mm variety); and they are usable with the Bofors, the much-publicized Swedish guns in the inventory.

Because the army is not certain whether or when the 155 mm SPG deal will be finalized, it is negotiating outright ("off-the-shelf") purchase of Russian-made Msta guns. This may assume added importance because of related developments. If the indigenous Arjun (main battle tank) does not enter into serial production and service soon, the army will need these guns to augment its fire power; and if Ukraine insists on supplying T-80 tanks to Pakistan, overruling Russian objections,(30) the Indian army might need to counteract the resultant power asymmetry.


Impact on the Indo-Pakistan Balance

The last full-blown military conflict between India and Pakistan, in 1971-72, led to the creation of Bangladesh. The ensuing period has been described variously as one of "ugly stability"(31) or "recessed deterrence,"(32) among other characterizations, and has seen the rise in substate level, insurrectionary warfare with sustained materiel and diplomatic support from across the border to militant nationals. Since the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1979, the insurgents include a vast number of Afghan refugees who have been easy targets for Pakistani mobilization and recruitment. Countering this threat presents a serious dilemma for India. Neglecting the issue would create dangerous instability in the troubled region of Kashmir. Overt response through armed means has the danger of escalating to the level of all-out conflict, with the threat of use of nuclear weapons.(33)

The Pakistani nuclear tests of May 1998 removed any ambiguity surrounding its nuclear weapons capability. Until the tests, the nuclear situation in South Asia could be described as one of "existential deterrence."(34) In this situation, since neither side has overtly deployed its nuclear arsenal, neither side is able to incontrovertibly infer that it would be able to launch a preemptive first-strike that would effectively neutralize the nuclear weapons capability of the adversary. The residual capacity of the adversary could enable it to mount a retaliatory second strike. This uncertainty creates some restraint on permitting conflicts to escalate to a point where threat of use of nuclear weapons becomes a possibility.

However, until India and Pakistan enunciate their respective nuclear doctrines and institute robust C31 networks, the ambiguity surrounding the tactical-military aspects of their nuclear relationship will endure. The recent Indian force buildup should be perceived as an attempt to decisively alter the force balance with Pakistan on the conventional weapons axis. It is aimed at circumventing the strategic dilemma faced by the Indian security establishment and developing a strategic doctrine and the necessary force level to enable India to preempt a Pakistani attack and put a determined end to the insurrectionary threat to the territorial integrity of the nation.

The doctrinal and tactical lessons learned from India's biggest-ever battle exercise, Operation Brass Tacks (1986), are of particular relevance in this context. General Krishnaswamy Sundarji, who was in command of Operation Brass Tacks, laid out the strategic prerequisites for executing such a mission (in his famous plan, Army 2000).(35) Sundarji's plan envisaged building a Rapid Deployment Force, equipping the army with squadrons of attack helicopters and light transport helicopters to quickly navigate difficult terrain and paradrop forces and light fighting equipment into the enemy's own territory. Since this plan has been only partially implemented (with one existing squadron being supplied with attack helicopters), such offensive capability remains highly limited.

It is in this context that India's purchase of Ilyushin-78 aircraft, the Su-30MK, and the MiG-29 assumes particular significance. Further, India is either indigenously developing or acquiring a host of night-fighting equipment, as well as augmenting its electronic warfare and "fly-by-wire" capabilities. It is estimated that such buildup would provide India a decisive qualitative, as well as quantitative, edge over Pakistan in conventional warfare.

Given the experience of the three prior wars, and the (immutable) geostrategic "compulsions" of Pakistan, India can acquire a military capability and force posture (including deployment) that effectively neutralizes Pakistan's ability to launch a first strike.(36) It is important to note, however, that in recent years we have witnessed a series of initiatives to seek a diplomatic solution to the protracted issues. These have included bilateral confidence-building measures, cooperation under the auspices of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, and various nongovernmental ("track 2") initiatives, such as the annual series of discussions at Neemrana (Rajasthan, India). Regardless of the trajectory traversed by the cooperative initiatives, it is clear that defense cooperation with Russia greatly augments Indian capacity to contain the threat emanating from its western border.

Impact on the Sino-Indian balance

China's economic reforms, begun in the early 1970s, have made the country a major player in the global economic arena. As a nuclear weapon state, it faces altogether different challenges than India in augmenting its weapons of mass destruction. In the current decade, however, as China pursues its great power aspirations, it has entered into a series of diplomatic/military agreements that seek to deemphasize conflict and promote peaceful coexistence in its strategic neighborhood.

However, experts remain ambivalent regarding Chinese behavior in the medium to long term. The benign projection of Chinese policy makes it likely that the country will increase its stake in the international system. On the other hand, it is also possible that as China improves its relative position in the international balance of power, the "realist" strand of its strategic culture might resurface, threatening the strategic stability of Asia and beyond.(37)

On the Sino-Indian front, mixed indicators abound. Eight rounds of meetings of the IndoChinese Joint Group have led to a significant reduction of troop levels and their deployment pattern along the line of actual control. On the other hand, Tibet remains an intractable problem. In recent years, China has deployed additional troops and surveillance units along the sensitive forward posts in Tibet. In the months leading up to the nuclear tests, India claimed that China was lengthening the runways at military airstrips in Tibet to permit tactical strikes by attack aircraft. Further, China was alleged to have beefed up surveillance along the Coco Islands, barely twenty-five miles off the strategic Indian Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

While some of this can be discounted as Indian posturing, it remains clear that an uneasy rapprochement best characterizes the Sino-Indian relationship. A major strain appeared during the recent visit of President Clinton to China, when a joint communique issued by the two sides espoused an active Chinese role in resolving the South Asian nuclear crisis. This was clearly unacceptable to India, which faces a nuclear and missile threat from China as well as from its clandestine assistance to Pakistan. A defining element of the Indian strategic dilemma is how to alert the West to its growing threat from China while also seeking a rapprochement with the latter.(38)

Following the end of the cold war, both Russia and the United States have significantly reduced their naval presence in the Indian Ocean. Concerned by the growing Chinese naval buildup, several states of Southeast Asia have urged India to increase its presence and counteract the naval power asymmetry, which could have serious implications for trade and other maritime operations. For India, this complements its recent Ostpolitik ("Look East" policy) wherein it pursues its economic and geopolitical aspirations through several avenues, including membership of the Association of South East Asian Nations, technology sharing with member states, and limited naval exercises with Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines.(39) These interactions, which have important implications for the Sino-Indian relationship in the next century, deepen Indian commitment on its southeastern flank.

Analysts concur that at least in the medium term, neither India nor China has tactical or strategic objectives that would make them adversaries. Rapid economic growth is an imperative for both sides, and the two are indeed deepening and widening their economic cooperation (including in space launch technology). Nevertheless, both sides augment their ability to make war against a possible downturn in their relationship.

In this context, it is significant that Russia has entered into military technical cooperation with both India and China. Given its security concerns and developmental imperatives, it makes sense for Russia to forge strong links with both India and China. For India, too, pursuing a policy of greater convergence with Russia and improved relations with China appears to be the most suitable course of action. A serious deterioration in Sino-Indian relationship would compel Russia to choose China over India as its strategic partner.(40) Further, China will be a central figure in any realistic configuration of the emerging Asian balance of power. Accordingly, India and China should initiate negotiations to clarify their mutual concerns and priorities relating to their strategic neighborhood. Clarification of doctrines and force structures would enhance transparency and accountability in their bilateral relations and diminish security concerns of other, smaller, states in the region. Such a move, particularly from the Indian side, would clarify whether its deepening defense cooperation with Russia is geared toward meeting contingent security threats or augmenting its power projection capability.

In the post-cold war era choices of policy instruments to pursue national goals and interests have been in flux. The preceding discussion has highlighted the national contingent reasons that propel Russia and India to seek closer bilateral ties. After the initial phase of adjustments with which both sides had to contend, within their borders and beyond, a deeper relationship of strategic significance is in the making. This makes it doubly imperative for India to clarify the doctrinal and operational aspects of its developmental goals and priorities. Doing so would enable the international community to better appreciate India's legitimate security concerns and policies, and not perceive them as spasmodic acts of a state that still searches for its rightful place in the global community.

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