Joint development the way ahead for Russia-India military ties

The Russian fifth generation fighter, code-named T-50, should be deployed in the Russian Air Force after 2017. Source: Nicolaos Chatzis/flickr

The Russian fifth generation fighter, code-named T-50, should be deployed in the Russian Air Force after 2017. Source: Nicolaos Chatzis/flickr

Modern Russo-Indian military and technical cooperation is focussed on research-intensive areas like aviation and missile manufacturing.

The hallmark of cooperation between Russia and India in the aviation sector is the joint development and manufacturing programme of fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) for the Indian Air Force. According to the Centre for Analysis of World Arms Trade’s latest estimates made in late October, the countries intend to start serial production of the FGFA in 2020. The plane – an Indian version of the Russian T-50 fighter – will be built at the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) production facilities. The Russian fifth generation fighter, code-named T-50, should be deployed in the Russian Air Force after 2017.

India’s Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Norman Anil Kumar Browne has stated that it will be a single-seat plane equipped with practically the same components as its Russian twin. Some of the equipment, however, such as onboard computers, will be different, as is the case with the Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighter upgraded for use by India.

According to Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation, the Russian side will supply 117C engines, as well as stealth technology for the Indian planes. India plans to manufacture onboard computers, software, a targeting system, and other onboard systems for its fifth generation fighter.  This is keeping in line with Indian participation in the programme for the India-licensed manufacture of the Russian multi-purpose Sukhoi 30MKI fighters at Indian factories. As a result, Russian-made components in the serial model should make up 60 percent, compared with India’s 40 percent.

Official data estimates the total cost of joint Russo-Indian FGFA development to be $12 billion. According to Marshal Browne, “the project will be carried out on a parity basis. It includes financing for detailed design, a full battery of tests, and the production of prototypes.” He added that they are currently at the preliminary design stage, estimated to cost $295 million.

Meanwhile, the contract for developing the aircraft for India has undergone considerable modifications. The Indian Air Force originally planned to buy 214 fifth generation planes (166 one-seaters and 48 two-seaters). That number has since been reduced to 144. The original number would have been built if the plane had been ready for deployment by 2017, and if Russian factories had been able to deliver the first batch of the machines. However, because of delays with the production of the T-50, India has decided to expand its participation in FGFA development, pushing the starting date for the production of its Indian version back to 2020.

India is in the process of a large-scale upgrade of its Air Force. Around 130 Russian-made multi-purpose Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighters (which should increase to 270) and around 70 MiG-29s form the backbone of the country’s fighter fleet.

Besides modern equipment, the Indian Air Force also has 51 French Mirage 2000 fighters and around 200 MiG-21s, almost half of which will be decommissioned within the next two or three years, while the rest will be upgraded.

India recently held a tender for supplying its Air Force with at least 126 multi-purpose fighters for a total of more than $10 billion. The French Dassault Rafale fighter won the tender.

In addition to modern military aircraft, Russia and India continue close cooperation in missile building, including the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile.

Russia and India are working with BrahMos Aerospace to promote a family of all-purpose supersonic BrahMos land-launched and ship-launched versions of the missile based on the Russian medium-range P-800 Onyx anti-ship missile, which some experts believe is unrivalled in the global marketplace.

According to Russia’s deputy prime minister in charge of the defence industry, Dmitry Rogozin, BrahMos Aerospace is not only a successful Russo-Indian joint venture, but it also represents an optimal model for bilateral cooperation that has tremendous political importance for both countries.

In early October 2012, the missile was test-fired from the Teg frigate built in Russia to India’s order. A contract for the construction of three frigates of this type was signed in 2006. India said the test was successful, with the cruise missile hitting its target at a distance of 290km.

One thousand land-launched and ship-launched versions of the missile are scheduled for production by 2016, with half of this number intended for sale to third countries.

The joint venture BrahMos Aerospace is working overtime to create the hypersonic BrahMos-2 missile. With a speed of more than five times the speed of sound, it will be practically impossible to intercept.

First Deputy General Director of Russia’s NPO Mashinostroenia Aleksandr Dergachev announced in mid-October that air tests for the BrahMos-2 would begin next year.

During Dmitry Rogozin’s visit to India in mid-October, BrahMos Aerospace CEO Dr Sivathanu Pillai presented the Russian delegation with a strategic plan for the joint venture development through 2050, which includes the design and implementation of innovation technologies for the BrahMos missile family, allowing the company to remain a global market leader in this area. Dr Pillai pointed out the importance of deploying the BrahMos missiles in the Russian Navy, as well as the need to develop new systems as soon as possible to maintain a technological edge over other countries.

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