Thursday, October 8, 2009

Russia Fights Increased Competition in India

Defense News

Aero India


Russia Fights Increased Competition in India; U.S., Israel make inroads in market once dominated by Russia

By Wendell Minnick

BANGALORE - Russian defense contractors put on a brave face at Aero India, as its traditional dominance of the Indian arms market appears to be slowly fading.

SPECTATORS POSE FOR a photograph near Indian fighter aircraft Feb. 13 at Air Force Station Yelahanka in Bengaluru, India. ( M. Scott Mahaskey / Staff)

The former Soviet Union was the dominant supplier of "neutral India" during the Cold War. India's foreign and defense policies often alienated the U.S., and Russian equipment was cheap and reliable. However, with the fall of the Soviet Union, there has been a sea change in India-U.S. relations as New Delhi has become an important political power in the region.

Russia is banking on its long history arming the Indian military.

India procured its first Russian fighter, the MiG-21, in 1962, and over the years procured the MiG-23, MiG-25RB/MF and MiG-29. Russia is currently engaged in a modernization of the MiG-29 and delivering the MiG-29K for the Indian Navy, said Mikhail Pogosyan, first vice president, United Aircraft Corp.

The U.S., European and Israeli defense contractors demonstrated a strong presence at this year's show. U.S.-based Boeing recently won the maritime patrol aircraft competition with its P-8. Israel is invading the modernization and upgrade market for India's inventory of Russian helicopters and fighter aircraft. The U.S. has signed contracts to sell India the stretched version of the C-130J and even Brazil's Embraer is selling airborne early warning and control aircraft to India.

There are even unconfirmed reports a Chinese military delegation, traditionally a staunch Pakistan ally, is visiting Aero India for the first time.

Russian officials downplayed Israeli upgrade deals with India on Russian fighters and helicopters as "not a real modification."

For the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) competition, Russia's MiG-35D is seeing tough competition from Europe and the U.S., with Saab Gripen, Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault Rafale, and Lockheed Martin F-16IN Super Viper and Boeing F/A-18 fighter. Both Lockheed and Boeing gave demonstration flights to local Indian celebrities in an effort to improve the chance of winning the tender.

Russia still appeared confident it would win the MMRCA.

"We have a fair chance of winning the contract for the 126 multi-role combat aircraft from India as our aircraft will meet all requirements of the Indian Air Force," said Pogosyan.

Russia is also proposing the joint development of a fifth generation fighter with India. "This program is a 50/50 deal with India," said Pogosyan.

"We are going to harmonize the two programs," he added, a reference to both the F-35 and the fifth generation fighter program.

"We have made good progress since concluding an inter-government agreement in 2007 for the joint development and production of the fifth generation fighter aircraft and are ready to sign detailed contracts this year for implementing the program," said Pogosyan.

The Russian delegation emphasized the key to the relationship was technology sharing agreements and production deals.

"The key to our relationship is that we share technology with India," said Alexander Fomin, first deputy director of State Service for Military Industrial Cooperation, and head of the Russian delegation.

"We will deliver top notch technology on schedule and are prepared to transfer technology to India," said Pogosyan.

However, even if Russia loses the fighter program, it is unlikely to be completely swept out of the Indian arms trade. Modernization and upgrades to existing Russian equipment will require India to turn to Moscow on a regular basis.

Among the ongoing Indian programs is the delivery of Mi-17V-5 transport helicopters to the air force, continued licensed production of the Su-30MKI fighter and T-90S main battle tanks, and a modernization deal for India's ageing Il-38 maritime patrol aircraft.

"India and Russia are the countries possessing high-tech capabilities and having a long history of mutually beneficial military-technical cooperation," said Viktor Komardin, head of Rosoboronexport's delegation. "We've taken part in all seven air shows in Bangalore."

Russian officials said that over the past 40 years, the volume of Russian-Indian military-technical cooperation exceeded $35 billion. India accounts for about one third of Russia's total arms exports, with aircraft making up the bulk of sales.