India-Russia Military Partnership: A Shared Vision

By Team Q-Tech 

Russia will continue to be one of the biggest suppliers of defence equipment and technology for India as a major share of defence equipment in the Indian inventory are of Russian origin. The military operational and logistics imperatives will drive India to continue importing defence equipment and hardware from Russia in the coming years.

India is one of the largest defence product importers and Russia continues to be one of the biggest suppliers of defence equipment and technology for India. A major share of defence equipment in the Indian inventory since the 1960s are of Russian originand it is likely to continues to remain India's largest defence supplier for several years to come.  As per the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), annual report on “Trends in international arms transfers” for 2013-2017 periods Russia accounted for 62 per cent of India's arms imports.

India and Russia have several major joint military programs as mentioned below:

  • BrahMos cruise missile program
  • INS Vikramaditya aircraft carrier program
  • Sukhoi Su-30MKI program
  • T-90S Tank Bhishma program
  • $900 million upgrade of MiG-29
  • Mil Mi-17 (80 ordered)
  • Ilyushin Il-76 Candid (6 ordered to fit Israeli Phalcon radar)

Russia is second largest exporter of Military Hardware after US. India is the single largest importer of Russian equipment as shown in Fig. as there are still several major procurements in which Russia faces no competition. The military operational and logistics imperatives will drive India to continue importing defence equipment and hardware from Russia in the coming years.


However in the past there have been some reservations on Russia not honouring the product value, customer value, not sticking to delivery schedules, creating roadblocks in transfer of technology (ToT), jacking up costs midway through execution of agreements and failing to provide uninterrupted supply of spares. The increasing propensity on the part of Russia to increase prices and delay in execution as in the case of Admiral Gorshkov is classic example. The delayed  deliveries  and not adhering to timelines in the initial stages of  supply of Su-30 MKI,  delays in the upgradation of the MiG-21 to the MiG-21 BIS level. The grievances does not end with Russian's indifference to quality and performance related issues of the equipment supplied but further escalated with the lack of Russian cooperation during fact establishment.  To quote a few examples:

  • Defective Krasnopol precision guided munitions.
  • Supply of Tank T-90s without some accessories.
  • Old vintage of Tangushka Air Defence system.
  • Structural defects MiG-29 aircraft
  • Accuracy of Klub missiles
  • MorskoyZmei suite for the IL-38 upgrade.
  • Barrel Bursting of T-72 Tanks and 125 mm Tank Amn.

The six monthly meeting of the Indo-Russian inter-governmental commission on military-technical cooperation (IRIGC-MTC) has been unable to sort out the differences on problems relating to military projects. To trouble-shoot pending issues, the two countries also decided to set up an apex joint working group (JWG) at the defence secretary level.

Shifting Focus and Spread

The recent reforms processes in India's defence research, development, planning, procurements, defence finance and foreign direct investments and off-setting is a clear indicator of what Indian defence policy makers want i.e. modernization and capacity building in its defence industry. To cut down this dependency, India is now increasingly looking at US, apart from Israel and Europe to procure high-tech weapons and platforms. The shifting focus in Indian defence purchases has been driven by the need to diversify and identifying the best globally available equipment for specific tasks. Russia has of late faced cut-throat competition from the West and even from Israel in eating into the competitive Indian defense market. India has been the leading global arms importer in recent years, with the competition from Western suppliers in terms of product value and customer value, the Russians may have to do some serious thinking in terms of arms transfers, price escalation, an increasing insistence on controlling technology transfers and being involved in after-sales support etc.

Notwithstanding above, Russia remains a privileged partner as they have stood together in good and bad times. Major projects under pipeline from Russia is as per the table.

New Bilateral Strategic Partnership

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Narendra Modi held the India-Russia annual summit on 05 Oct 2018, which has given new direction to the bilateral strategic partnership and reiterated their commitment to mutual cooperation and economic collaboration. The signing of the much anticipated S-400 Triumf Air Defence System $5 billion deal even as the US gave a guarded response over the development and mentioned that its intent to slap sanctions against Russia was not aimed at imposing damage to the military capabilities of its allies or partners. The agreement involves supplying five regiments of S-400 missile defence system to the IAF. Delivery is expected to begin within 24 months of signing the contract.

Some of the military-technical cooperation contracts that are likely to be signed in near future are:-

  • Four Krivak (Talwar) class stealth frigates project 11356 a $2.5 billion deal for the Indian Navy (two ships are to be built at a Goa shipyard and another two, delivered from Russia - TASS).
  • Akula Class Nuclear Submarine.
  • 48 Mi-17V-5 helicopters.
  • 200 Ka-226T helicopters.
  • The licensed production of AK 103 assault rifles could also come up with the Ordnance Factories Board (OFB) being the partner in India.
  • Procurement of Naval missile.
  • The Indian military delegation led by General Rawat met the top brass of the Russian Armed Forces. India is in search for to procure 1,770 multipurpose future ready combat vehicles (FRCV) priced at over USD 4.5 billion to replace the aging force of T-72 main battle tanks (MBTs) and T-14 Armata FRCV is likely one of the possibility along with and South Korean K2 Black Panther main battle tanks.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi pitched for a dedicated defence industrial park in India. With India and Russia operating so many common-origin platforms like warships, submarines, fighter jets and tanks, it makes more sense and it will help in servicing of equipment at various locations it will help Russians seek such facilities at Indian repair depots. In India-Russia military relations, a unique mutual military logistics support agreement is being discussed between the two countries. If agreed upon, it will replicate what the Indo-US Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) facilitates. The LEMOA allows use of each other military facilities like ports to seek repairs, fuel, logistics etc.

Eight under mentioned pacts, in the fields of space, nuclear energy, railways and on cooperation on India's ambitious human space mission project Gaganyaan, were signed during the recent visit.

  • Protocol for Consultations between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and MEA for the period 2019-2023
  • MOU between the Ministry of Economic Development of the Russian Federation and the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog)
  • A crucial MoU was signed between Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Federal Space Agency of Russia 'ROSCOSMOS' on joint activities in the field of human spaceflight programme Gaganyaan.
  • Memorandum of Cooperation between the Indian and Russian Railways
  • Action Plan for Prioritization and Implementation of Cooperation Areas in the Nuclear Field
  • MOU between the Russian Ministry of Transport and Indian Railways in the Development Cooperation in Transport Education
  • Memorandum of Understanding between the National Small Industries Corporation (NSIC), of India and the Russian Small and Medium Business Corporation (RSMB), on Cooperation in the field of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises
  • Cooperation Agreement in the Fertilizers Sector between the Russian Direct Investment Fund" ("RDIF”); PJSC Phosagro (PhosAgro) and Indian Potash Limited (IPL)
  • Both countries had agreed to step up cooperation in combating the menace of terrorism and drug trafficking.

India and Russia, have a long history of mutual trust and benefit, and reiterated their commitment to strategic and military cooperation. India gives priority to its relations with Russia. Russia has always been a part of India's growth story. Both countries have mutual benefits in supporting the struggle against terrorism, Afghanistan and Indo-Pacific events, climate change; organisations like SCO, BRICS, G20 and ASEAN and have agreed to continue cooperation with these international organizations.

Payments Issues

The volume of Russia's defence sales and supplies to India has dropped from $4.7 billion in 2013 to just around $2 billion annually in the period from 2014 to 2017.Indian banks stopped processing payments worth billions of dollars, citing high risks due to US sanctions against Russia. Both countries are likely to use rupee-rouble settlements instead of US dollars. However, in view of size of contracts and volatility in exchange rates to rework all the contracts and recalculate the amounts remains a problem. Besides, the Defence Ministry is busy giving touches to various projects that are pending with Russia.


The Indian focus has shifted basically to build its own defence industrial base and to make India a manufacturing hub for defence platforms, and for that the traditional dependence need to spread to countries for high technology weapons. Russia is still politically, diplomatically and militarily important for India as they continue to be the single largest defense vendor for the Indian industry and are responsible for over 60 percent of Indian weaponry currently in use by India. The USA and other European countries have the latest technology and are also keen to share and hence a transition is natural, but concern remains.

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