The Russia-Ukraine military conflict will adversely affect India at several levels, including defence equipment supplies. India is hugely dependent on Moscow for supply of arms, especially the delivery of Russian developed S-400 air defence missile system. The S-400 is Russia's most advanced long-range surface-to-air missile defence system.
India had signed a $5 billion deal with Russia in October 2018 to buy five units of the S-400 systems despite a warning from the then Trump administration that the contract may invite US sanctions going ahead. However, India had asserted that its decisions are based on its national interests and for the country's security.
Impact of sanctions on Russian defence industry
The sanctions by West will affect Russia's domestic defence industry as it will be impacted due to restrictions on import of technologies as well as critical components and export of finished products and system, says Brigadier Rahul Bhonsle (retired), Director of New Delhi-based Security Risks consultancy group.
India will be impacted in two ways by the sanctions on Russian defence industry, he opines.
First implication, he says, is in terms of restrictions on Russia for imports and exports of military technology as well as equipment. "This will constrain the ability to fulfill existing contracts to India such as the S-400 and stealth frigates, amongst others," notes Brigadier Bhonsle.
The second challenge, he says, will be in payments with dollar transactions being controlled after US Department of Treasury has blocked the same with Russia's two largest banks and almost 90 financial institution subsidiaries.
Impact on India's defence procurement
Due to the West's sanctions, India's military faces a grim prospect of interrupted and delayed Russian defence kit supply, which is critical for military's operational readiness, especially in the wake of a collective threat from China and Pakistan.
Brigadier Bhonsle states that although military's operational readiness will not be impacted in the immediate term, there are huge concerns in the short-term and beyond.
As far as the two-front collusive threat from China and Pakistan is concerned, that will have to be addressed through non-military strategies, he says.
Impact on India's overall military capability
Brigadier Bhonsle says that the overall military capability of India won't be affected in the immediate term as present levels will be based on existing weapons as well as equipment and spares as well as ancillaries to support the same.
"However, there will be some areas where gaps could emerge such as critical spares and ancillaries which need to be watched out for. In short to long-term, defence capability will be impacted unless measures to offset the same are not taken from the very outset," he outlines.
Why is India dependent on Russian military material?
But why does India prefer Russian military equipment? This, he explains, is owing to the legacy of Russia being India's strategic partner since the 1970s.
"This legacy has led to Indian armed forces' acquisition of first Soviet and now Russian weapons and technology," states Brigadier Bhonsle, adding that this has several advantages for India "from ruggedness, cost of operation and maintenance and speedier acquisition through a government-to-government process". The technology is also reasonably contemporary, he says.
Alternate choices for India
In view of the current sanctions on Russia, the alternate choice for India is to become self-dependent, he opines.
"In the short and even in the long-term, there are limited alternate choices for replacement of Russian equipment. Hopefully, the 'Atmanirbhar Bharat' in defence programme sees substantial traction in the years ahead," Brigadier Bhonsle says.
India-Russia defence deals
Around 23 per cent of Russian arms exports from 2016-2010 went to India, according to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. The main battle tank of the Indian Army are primarily Russian T-72M1 and T-90s.
The sole operational aircraft carrier of the country's Navy is a refurbished Soviet-era ship and its whole complement of ground and fighter attack aircraft are made in Russia or manufactured in India through licence.
Furthermore, four of the Navy's 10 guided-missile destroyers are Russian Kashin class, six of its 17 frigates are Russian Talwar class. The Navy's only nuclear-powered submarine is taken on lease from Russia.
Majority of the Indian Air Force's (IAF) 29-30 fighter squadrons operate Russian aircraft comprising around 272 multi-role Su-30MKIs fighters, awaiting an upgrade to 'Super Sukhoi' standard. Over 100 MiG 21 'Bis' are operated by the IAF.
Coming to the ongoing and future deals with Russia, India is procuring the S-400 air defence systems from Russia. Some of them are stationed in Punjab to foil a probable attack from China and Pakistan. India also inked an agreement for AK-203 rifles recently, and the production is slated to start in India soon. Any further delay may leave the Indian troops at borders with China and Pakistan in the lurch.
The country is also in the process of procuring warships from Russia. The most difficult and worrisome thing is the procurement of BrahMos missiles. The sanctions could seriously undermine India's $375-million BrahMos cruise missile export order to the Philippines as BrahMos Aerospace is a joint venture between India's Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Russia's NPO Mashinostroyenia.
The defence equipment from Russia pending delivery to India comprise five Almaz-Antey S-400 Triumf self-propelled surface-to-air (SAM) missile systems, the provision of 20,000 Kalashnikov AK-203 7.62x39mm assault rifles, four Admiral Grigorovich Project 1135.6M frigates, and the leasing of one more Project 971 'Akula' (Schuka-B)-class nuclear-powered submarine (SSN).
Furthermore, India had signed agreements with Russia for supplies of a range of missiles and ammunition for use by the Indian Army. It is also in advanced talks with Russia to procure 12 Sukhoi Su-30MKI for the IAF, to be built by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd., and 464 Russian T-90MS main battle tanks for the Indian Army, amongst others.
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