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Defence cooperation

India and Russia are once again set to further deepen their defence nuclear technology cooperation.  The issue of acquiring second Akula class nuclear submarine on lease from Russia was extensively discussed during the visit of Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu in the third week of January this year.  The special and privileged strategic partnership between India and Russia will get a new boost if India decides to acquire the second nuclear powered submarine from Russia which will send a strong message to the world strategic community that India Russia defence and strategic partnership is not withering.

For the first time the talks were held under the shadow of Russian offer to Pakistan to sell Mi-35 attack helicopters, as India expressed concern over growing proximity between Russia and Pakistan in defence sector, but the Russian  side tried to allay India’s concern.  

The visit intended to jointly chair the inter-governmental commission on military and technical cooperation was in fact preceded a month ago by summit level discussion on ways and means to deepen defence cooperation during the visit of President Vladimir Putin to India last December.

Concerned with India’s diversion of its defence acquisition and substantial loss of Indian market Putin had asserted together with Modi in the Joint statement, “The two sides recognize the virtually unlimited opportunities for enhancing this cooperation, increasingly based on joint research and development, joint manufacturing, technology sharing and collaborative research in futuristic technologies, in accordance with existing agreements on military-technical cooperation.”

Nuclear submarine

According to sources, the issue of the lease of second nuclear submarine was originally agreed in principle during the negotiations, early last decade, when the two countries were discussing the acquisition of the Gorshkov aircraft carrier from Russia.

The first of 8140 ton Akula class nuclear submarine nicknamed INS Chakra was received in 2011. Since India has an ambitious plan to give a strategic colour to its navy, nuclear powered submarines are already being built in India, with Russian assistance. The first India made nuclear submarine INS Arihant has already been launched for sea trial last December. The second nuclear submarine is under construction but will take no less than five or six years for its induction.

Since India needs nuclear powered submarine for gaining experience and training its crew, India decided to exercise the option of acquiring the second Akula on lease for ten years. There has also been reports that India has sought the extension of the lease period of INS Chakra also as it is already four years old and  has provided good experience to Indian nuclear submariners.

The second Akula will bolster Indian navy’s depleted underwater combat arms as well as train its sailors in the operation of such complex underwater systems. Though, the Russian nuclear subs on lease will not be able to carry deterrent missiles like the underwater submarine launched nuclear tipped missiles, the Akula  is currently patrolling the Indian Ocean with extremely long endurance.

Last December, defence minister in response to a media query did not fight shy to candidly answer, “It’s an open secret, we are discussing the possibility of extending the current lease or of taking another submarine on lease. This will help us in training.” The second Akula named Irbis has been mothballed, as its full construction was stopped mid way because of financial troubles after the dissolution of USSR.

With US and Israel emerging as strong contenders for Indian defence market, a worried Russia has also offered to join the Make In India bandwagon to manufacture new advanced defence systems in India.

Though Russians have been a pioneer in manufacturing their defence systems in India under the license production arrangement , under which currently world’s one of the most advanced multi role fighter Sukhoi-30MKI is manufactured  by Hindustan Aeronautics limited, the visit of President Putin during the month of December last had raised new expectations. As he himself declared to manufacture advanced helicopters in India, this topic was broached during joint military and technical commission meeting, headed by the two defence ministers.

So in accordance with highest level commitment, Indian defence ministry in a release said later after the ministerial level talks, “ both countries reaffirm their commitment to the long standing friendship and cooperation in the area of defence cooperation. The two defence ministers resolved to carry forward the understanding reached during the summit in order to further strengthen the special and privileged strategic partnership between the two countries. The two sides reviewed the entire gamut of defence cooperation. They expressed confidence that the cooperation would be taken forward and be further strengthened.

Joint development

To re-energize the defence relations the two defence ministers decided to hold regular interactions to sort out the issues in joint development and production projects. Manohar Parrikar invited the Russian defence industry to take advantage of India’s Make in India policy. They also discussed possible future areas of cooperation in high technology defence platforms as well as armament for the three services.

The two defence ministers also decided to fast track the ongoing joint development projects like Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft, the work on which seems to be stuck because of work sharing issues. Parrikar later clarified to the Indian media “we have discussed all the issues including the FGFA as there were some apprehensions about the slow pace in execution of the projects.

Besides the FGFA, the two countries have also decided to jointly work on Multi Role Transport Aircraft but there has not been any forward movement regarding its execution. Hence Parrikar said “And the first thing we have decided is that this slow speed has to be overtaken and a fast track approach has to be initiated in the arrangement”, The two countries have already demonstrated that they can be successful in high tech projects like the Brahmos Supersonic Cruise missiles, the development and production of the mini version of which is also under discussion.