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Defence Ties With Russia:WHY INDIA PREFERS ISRAEL ?, by Radhakrishna Rao,25 February 2008 Print E-mail

Defence Notes

New Delhi, 25 February 2008

Defence Ties With Russia


By Radhakrishna Rao

The smooth and successful launch of Israel’s military satellite TECSAR by an Indian space vehicle this January and the presence of a number of defence and aerospace firms from Israel at the DefExpo-2008 in Delhi in February are a clear pointer of Israel emerging as India’s most-preferred defence partner in the near future. In sharp contrast, the subdued and modest presence of Russian defence entities at the Expo was a mirror to the growing friction in Indo-Russian defence ties. From being a reliable defence partner, Russia has come to be looked upon in India as an undependable supplier of military hardware, many of which have proved to be “poor performers”.

In fact, India is far from happy over the cost escalation, time slippages and poor after- sales service including the non-availability of spares on number of occasions in respect of many defence projects for which it has signed up with Russia. Perhaps the most galling to the Indian defence establishments is the Russian insistence on an additional payment of US$1.2-billion for the retrofitting and modernization of the Admiral Gorshkov, a 44,750 tonne Kiev class aircraft carrier. Russia had originally agreed to retrofit this decommissioned aircraft carrier for US$1.5-billion and supply it to the Indian Navy by 2008-09. Now it will reach India only by 2012-2013 .Currently, negotiations are on between the two nations to sort out the controversy.

Sometime last year the Chief of Navy Admiral Suresh Mehta had stated that it was high time that New Delhi stopped putting all its eggs in one basket, thereby implying that India should stop depending totally on the Russians and instead expand its defence ties with more reliable partners such as Israel. Obviously, Mehta was referring to the change of Russian stance over the retrofitting of Gorshkov.

Clearly and apparently, Gorshkov is not the only case of Indo-Russian defence collaboration gone sour. It is only the tip of the ice-berg. Citing global inflation and depreciating US dollar, Russia has already asked India to cough up more for SU-3)-MKI combat aircraft. And, the Indian Navy on its part has refused to take delivery of the Kilo class submarine and the land attack missiles it was equipped with to fire, after it came a cropper in test firings. Similarly, last year India withheld the payment for one of the three IL-38 maritime patrol aircraft upgraded with the Sea Dragon submarine detection equipment since it did not fulfill the stringent norms set by the Indian Navy.

Another bone of contention between India and Russia is the issue of technological transfer in critical areas for production of T-90S battle tank by the Heavy Vehicles Factory at Avadi near Chennai. There is a dismay in India over the way Russians are putting impediments in its plan to indigenously manufacture 1000 T 90S battle tanks. Now India has decided to develop the critical technological elements in respect of T-90S that Russia has refused to make available.

As a defence analyst in New Delhi put it, India is irritated with Moscow for its failure to keep its commitment of delivering weapons systems on time and also failing to sustain a system to provide uninterrupted supply of spares, apart from jacking up the cost arbitrarily halfway through the implementation of the project.

The break-up of the mighty Soviet empire leading to the bankruptcy of its vast and sprawling military industrial complex has been blamed for India’s far from happy track record in dealing with the Russian defence contractors. As it is, India had a taste of this in 1992, when succumbing to the American pressure, Russia refused to honour its commitment of transferring the critical cryogenic engine technology to India. Russia, which had signed with Glavkosmos as part of the deal with Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) before the break up of the Soviet Union was required to make available the cryogenic engine technology. Subsequently, ISRO managed to build and test a fully Indian cryogenic engine stage meant to power its high performance GSLV (Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle).

Diplomatic observers in New Delhi believe that the growing chill in Indo-Russian defence ties has to do with India’s growing bonhomie with the US. The Russian supreme Vladimir Putin who is at logger heads with the American administration is quite keen about India remaining within the orbit of Russian influence. However, Russian political and defence commentators continue to believe that Indo-Russian defence ties are as healthy as ever despite “frictions and tensions”  In this context, they point out to the Indo-Russian high-level cooperation for developing a fifth generation combat aircraft and a multi-role cargo transport aircraft.

The Brahmos supersonic cruise missile, developed through a joint Indo-Russian endeavor, is being cited as yet another example of robust Indo-Russian military ties. Interestingly, India and Russia are now not only exploring the possibility of exporting Brahmos to friendly countries, but also are working on building an advanced version of Brahmos missile.

Russia which currently sells defence hardware worth about US$1.5-billion to India could in the years to come yield place to Israel whose annual sale of defence equipment to India clocks a turn over of US$1-billion. In fact, Israel has now displaced France as India’s second largest defence partner.

The sky seems to be the limit for India to expand its defence ties with Israel. At DefExpo-2008, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) entered into an agreement with Tata Industries to float a joint venture meant to cater to the needs of the Indian customers of IAI. Tata Industries is looking at digging deeper into the Indian defence market. Further, the Bangalore-based state-owned defence enterprise BEL (Bharat Electroncis Ltd) tied up with three Israel-based companies at the Expo. BEL has singed a “term sheet” with Rafael Advanced Defence Systems to form a joint-venture company to “encourage indigenous advanced technology capabilities of missile electronics and guidance systems”. On the other hand, BEL has signed a MOU with IAI-Malat for the joint development of unmanned aerial vehicles. Further, a 12-year tie up with Elisra envisaged the joint working on various air borne electronics warfare programmes.

Israel, which has supplied Barak missiles to the Indian Navy, is also assisting the Bangalore-based Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd in upgrading many of the Soviet era weapons including MiG series of combat aircraft. It is a tribute to the growing Indo-Israel ties that the Government-owned Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and IAI have joined hands to develop a missile capable of intercepting aircraft and other aerial objects. And despite the opposition from the US, Israel has struck a deal with India to supply three state-of-the art AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System).

These AWACS would help the Air Force gain a deeper and more detailed insight into the enemy territory. First of the three AWACS would reach India by the year-end. In addition to supplying a variety of missiles, UAVs, and electronics warfare hardware for all the wings of the Indian defence, Israel is also assisting many Indian entities in developing missiles and radars for a variety of end uses. For instance, Israel is helping Bangalore- based Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) to test and integrate the multi mode radar (MMR) into the indigenously developed fourth generation Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas. HAL has also decided to equip its Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) Dhruv meant for export market with IAI made avionics system.

Meanwhile, the launch of the 300-kg TECSAR featuring a synthetic aperture radar capable of seeing through the clouds and cover of darkness by means of the four stage Indian space vehicle PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle) has stirred political and diplomatic controversy. The CPM whose support is crucial to the survival of the  UPA Government has hit out at ISRO for launching a spy satellite belonging to Israel. “The launch of Israel’s TECSAR shows how India is aiding the military efforts of Israel. The satellite has the capability to track the activities in Iran and the region”, said a CPM spokesman.

The Left party has also alleged that ISRO has agreed to launch two more defence satellites from Israel. Iran on its part has made its displeasure over the TECSAR launch by India with the statement that India should have weighed the geo political situation before agreeing for this launch contract on purely commercial terms. Time will tell how far India goes with its defence requirements with Israel. --INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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