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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

India Offers Pledges, But Little Else

ReutersKlebanov and Fernandes addressing reporters after their lengthy meeting Friday.
Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov returned home from a highly touted four-day visit to New Delhi last week with lots of pledges to cooperate in building military hardware but few contracts.

Industry observers said, however, that the pledges given by Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes signal a new and important stage in military and technical cooperation between the two countries.

Klebanov and Fernandes signed off on three protocols and one arms contract during lengthy negotiations Friday, Indian Defense Ministry spokesman Pradipto Kumar Bandyopadhyay said by telephone.

The protocols call for the two nations to cooperate in the aviation industry, build warships and develop land-based systems for the army. The contract, of unspecified value, was for the delivery of Krasnopol precision-guided projectiles from the Tula-based Instrument-Building Design Bureau.

Landing in New Delhi late Tuesday, Klebanov said Russia would move beyond arms sales alone to India and forge a new strategic partnership of equal financial stakes in the research, development and production of high-tech weapons for each others' navies and air forces.

Quoting Fernandes, Bandyopadhyay said the aviation protocol was for the design and development of a fifth-generation fighter.

Bandyopadhyay said that state-controlled Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. would work in tandem with Sukhoi on the development of Russia's fifth-generation fighter. Sukhoi is currently competing with another Russian firm, Russian Aircraft Corp. MiG, in a government tender to develop the jet, which the government wants ready to test fly by 2006 and enter mass production in 2010. Klebanov said Russia would send India a concept paper on the new jet and that a technical team from India would come to Moscow in two months to discuss the details.

"No details have been worked out yet, this is at a purely conceptual stage, a declaration of intent," the Indian defense minister's scientific adviser V.K. Atre said by telephone from New Delhi on Sunday. "We already have a fourth-generation program, and the fifth-generation is the obvious next choice."

The two sides will also jointly develop for their own use and export a 100-passenger, multi-purpose transport aircraft based on the Russian Il-214 design, Bandyopadhyay said. HAL and the Irkutsk Aviation Production Association are to participate in its development.

He said Fernandes hailed the work of Brahmos, a joint venture making anti-ship cruise missiles, as a watershed in Indian-Russian military cooperation.

The countries failed, however, to finalize deals worth some $3 billion, including the lease of two nuclear submarines and two nuclear-capable Tu-22M3 backfire bombers, as well as India's acquisition of the Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier.

Media quoted Fernandes as saying that while the two sides agreed on technical issues, some financial issues remained on the table.

"The technical discussions [for the carrier] have been completed. The price negotiation is what needs to be done, and we should be on that job very soon," Fernandes was quoted by Reuters as saying Friday.

Russia is prepared to transfer the Gorshkov to India for free in exchange for contracts to modernize the carrier and purchase a batch of MiG-29K naval jets and Kamov helicopters, which should earn Russia at least $1.5 billion.

Bandyopadhyay also said the two sides did not even bridge the subject of India leasing two nuclear submarines to counter increasing Chinese expansion in the Indian Ocean. India is reportedly looking at Russian Shchuka-B class multi-role submarines.

India, which is Russia's No. 2 arms client after China, has been increasingly shifting away from purchasing hardware and pursuing licensed production, including Su-30 jets and T-90C battle tanks.

"India has been the most stable client of Russia's defense industry over the years. If it gets to the point of jointly developing [hardware], it will be a new, higher-quality level of cooperation," said Marat Kenzhetayev, an expert with the Moscow-based Center for Arms Control.

Konstantin Makiyenko, deputy head of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, hailed the new spirit of cooperation, adding that India could be a valuable source of finance for Russian defense industry research and development.