The Indian defence minister is on a three-day tour to Russia, the official engagement being to attend the Victory Day parade at Moscow as a guest
By Wing Commander Amit Ranjan Giri
The Indian defence minister is on a three-day tour to Russia, the official engagement being to attend the Victory Day parade at Moscow as a guest. A contingent of Indian armed forces would also be participating in the parade. It is interesting to note that the Chinese counterpart of our Defence minister would be in attendance of the same parade as Mr Rajnath Singh. Questions have been asked across the politico-military circles, as to the true nature of both the defence minister in attendance during these crucial ‘COVID times’ and correctly so because, to the trained eye this seems to more than applauding a parade.
Whispers of a push being given by the RM, to defence deals with India is certainly doing the rounds of South Block in Delhi. On the table are deals for the S-400 air defence missile system and the recently unveiled by the IAF, the Su 30s and MiG 29s fighter proposal, totalling to 33 high-performance aircraft, the latter, however, is yet to be signed. The chances of side deals for spares for existing Russian defence equipment also cannot be ruled out.
As far as the S-400 missile deal goes, it has already been inked and IAF awaits the delivery of the much-coveted long-range air defence equipment, which would put it at par with the PLAAF setup. The system comprises of three different types of missile with the longest range being 400 kms, a fact which would daunt the raiding PLAAF fighters. China incidentally has a similar system to augment its existing S-300 and HQ 9 setup for its layered defence of vital installations. At present, on the Indian inventory, the farthest an air defence missile can shoot down an enemy fighter is approximately 30 kms – the Akash. Pushing this far range to a phenomenal 400 kms would definitely be a huge boost to the IAF’s air defence capability.
It is envisaged that Mr Rajnath Singh would try to impress upon the Russian government to give the industry a much-required impetus for early delivery of India bound S-400s, in view of the current situation. If the grapevine is to be believed then India’s delivery has been delayed mainly because of clubbing of the deliveries of other countries by the manufacturer, M/S Fakel Machine building design bureau. Speaking of air defence missiles, a mention of replenishment of some existing Russian missile system of the IAF, in its present or upgraded form, may also get a place in the discussions.
On the other expected lines of discussions, the RM would most probably bring out the fast-tracking of order for the 33 fighter jets, 21 MiG 29s and 12 Su 30s. Though these orders are being now processed in India a small mention and forewarning to Russia would help in the ‘speeding up’ of production. The big questions here are what and when. The Indian Su 30 MKI is custom build for the IAF, these are now being licence produced by HAL in India, so are these 12 new ones the same version or some other versions built by Russia, if same why not HAL? Same is the dilemma for the MiG 29s. In case both are being produced by Russia then wouldn’t the deliveries take a pretty long time, after all, they need to be first built? Aircraft are seldom ‘buy off the shelf’ products.
In view of the present Sino Indo standoff post-Galwan, there is a chance that the Defence Minister may also put in a word to his Russian counterpart about the shopping list of the three services which have been cleared under the emergency powers of the respective service Vice Chiefs. In all probabilities, these would constitute a plethora of weapons varying in requirements and capabilities, also amongst these would most likely be the much-needed spares for our existing equipment.
It must be appreciated that both, India and China have military hardware which is almost common and of Russian origin. For example, the Chinese Su 30s are MKK version whereas the Indian ones are MKI, not much of difference except for user demanded enhancements, similar would be the missile systems, of course the PLAAF does have a array of reversed engineered Russian weapon systems, nonetheless they too require spares. The presence of the Chinese defence minister General Wei Fenghe in Russia, at the same time, cannot rule out the fact that similar negotiations would be on from their side too.
It appears that the negotiations race between India and China has started well before the war and incidentally, on the same table.
(The author is an IAF Veteran. Views expressed are personal.)