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Indo-Russia Ties On Downswing:INDIA TURNS TO ISRAEL AND ITALY, by Radhakrishna Rao, 21 July 2008 Print E-mail

Defence Notes

New Delhi, 21 July 2008

Indo-Russia Ties On Downswing


By Radhakrishna Rao

With India’s defence relations with Russia, a one-time trusted ally running into rough weather over the Russian insistence on a higher price tag for its defence hardware as well as the tough time New Delhi has had in getting timely supply of reliable spares and components from this former Communist giant, the country has been on the outlook for alternate supply sources for defence hardware and allied services. In particular, India’s defense establishment is quite disturbed over the cost escalation and delay in retrofitting the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov now known as INS Chandragupta.

Though the USA has been “overeager” to enter the action-packed, lucrative Indian defence market in a big way, the Indian defence set-up has been treading cautiously in so far as clinching defence deals with American defence contractors is concerned. Given the deeply rooted penchant of the American political leadership, cutting across the ideological barriers, to come out with “sanctions and trade embargos.” Plainly, implying the annulment of the arrangement for the supply of “spares and services’ at the most critical juncture.

Asserted the Director of the Centre for Land Warfare Studies Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal, “Overall it is best to diversify the supplier base and enter into technological collaboration with the best in different fields because we always face the risk of resumption of sanction.

Against such a backdrop, India has been increasingly leaning towards Israel to meet the growing needs of its defence sector. Today, Israel is the country’s second largest defence partner showing up the potential to replace Russia as the number one defence hardware supplier. However, the emergence of Italy is a modest way, as India’s trusted defence partner has not gone unnoticed.

It is a tribute to the smooth running of the Indo-Italian defence ties that Italy has proposed that the two countries join hands for research and development in defence production. Incidentally, in 2003, India and Italy had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on the transfer of defence equipment, technical assistance and defence industrial cooperation.

Both the Italian defence industry and India’s military establishment are convinced that the marriage of Italian expertise in the area of high tech weapons systems with India’s human resources skill make for a win-win combination. Moreover, the prevailing EU defence embargo against China implies that Italy would need to turn to India to promote its defence hardware and services. For India is looking at spending around US$50-billion over the next five years as part of an ambitious exercise to modernize and  upgrade its military machine, which till recently was dependent on the Soviets and Russia weapons systems.

An Italian company is assisting the Government-owned Cochin Shipyard Ltd at Kochi in building India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier ADS (Air Defence Ship) at an estimated cost of Rs.20-billion. Also, the Italian firm has entered into two contractual deals with the Cochin Shipyard with a view to help India’s realize 38,000-tonne ADS by 2012. Like the Admiral Gorchakov aircraft carrier now being retrofitted and augmented by Russia for the Indian Navy, the ADS too will be armed by Mig-29 MTK combat aircraft. Further, the Italian Defence Ministry has suggested that both the countries could very well join hands to develop combat systems for use onboard ADS.

Earlier this year, the Indian navy also clinched an Rs.13,000-million deal with Italy for a new fleet tanker. This tanker to be delivered by around 2010 would boost the country’s naval fleet’s endurance in high seas by a substantial extent. On another front, the Italian FREMA stealth frigate is in the race for grabbing an Rs.30,0000m order for 7 warships for the use of the Indian navy.

Additionally, the Italian company is also in the reckoning to supply 6 advanced offshore patrol vehicles to the Indian navy and Coast Guard. It has already supplied an advanced oceanographic survey ship to the Indian Ministry of Science and Technology. No wonder then that Italy considers India to be a priority country.

Meanwhile, Italy is also looking to bag a lucrative Indian order for the supply of 12 AW-101 VVIP helicopters for use by the President and Prime Minister. Each of these helicopters carrying a price tag of Rs.1100-million will be adequately augmented with advanced communications systems and self protection devices.

Indeed, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has been impressed by the performance of this triple engine Italian chopper, AW-101 during its extensive field trials. Everything going as planned, India and Italy are likely to sign this multi-million dollar contract sometime before the end of this year. According to defence experts, this could perhaps be the biggest and most prestigious Italian export to India. Clearly, the acquisition of the VVIP choppers could nudge Italian defence firms to expand their presence in the fast-growing defence aerospace market of India.

The Italian NH-90 helicopter too is aspiring to get the order for 16 anti-submarine warfare choppers for the use of Indian navy. Further, this Italian firm is in the race to provide 13 ATR turboprop maritime patrol aircraft to the Indian navy and the coast guard. Keen on getting a possibly bigger share of the Indian defence market, the Italian company has also offered its C-27J Spartan medium transport aircraft to the BSF, under the Home Ministry.

Significantly, another Italian firm, part of the Euro fighter consortium, is making vigorous efforts to get the mega Indian defence order for the supply of 126 medium, multi-role fighter aircraft for the IAF. Depending upon the type of the aircraft and the armament suite it carries, the value of this order is expected to touch US$10-billion. It has invited India to “become a member of the successful Euro fighter family” with the offer to allow it free access to all future technology enhancement featuring futuristic technological elements.

In the ultimate, Italy has been slowly but surely emerging as India’s trusted defence partner. According to SIPRI Arms Transfer data base 1998-2007, Italy occupies 12th place among the countries that make available defence hardware and military services to India--- and the sky is the limit. ---INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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