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    South Asia
     Oct 27, 2007
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India, Russia still brothers in arms
By Sudha Ramachandran

BANGALORE - Defense cooperation between India and Russia, which had run into trouble in recent months following differences over cost escalation of armament systems, is back on track. The two countries have signed a multi-billion dollar agreement for the joint development of futuristic stealth fighter aircraft, following a high-level visit by an Indian delegation to Russia.

The agreement, which was signed at the seventh meeting of the Indo-Russian inter-governmental commission on military-technical

co-operation in Moscow, provides for joint development of the fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA), the Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FA. The Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FA is known for its super-maneuverability, supersonic cruising ability, long-range strike and high-endurance air defense capabilities. It is described as a rival to the US F-35 Lighting-II Joint Strike Fighter.

The deal on joint production comes almost five years after the Russians first proposed it.

India and Russia will have equal financial and technological stakes in the US$10 billion project. "We will share the funding, engineering and intellectual property in a 50-50 proportion," Sukhoi director-general Mikhail Pogosyan said. The Indian version of the FGFA would be different from the Russian version because of specific Indian requirements, he said.

According to a report in Times of India, the Indian Air Force (IAF) is looking to the FGFA to fulfill its future requirements "across the entire spectrum of warfare from low-intensity conflicts and conventional wars to nuclear-weapon delivering capabilities". The report quotes an IAF officer as saying that the IAF wants the FGFA to be capable of "a high degree of network centricity". It should not only be able to share the tactical picture but also be GIMS (global information management system) enabled. In addition to possessing a high degree of firepower through precision-guided munitions, the FGFA should be equipped with multi-spectral optical, infrared, laser and radar sensors, the IAF officer said.

The deal on joint development of defense hardware is not the first time that India and Russia have entered such an agreement. The two countries are engaged, for instance, in joint production of the BrahMos (named after a combination of names of two rivers - India's Brahmaputra and Russia's Moskva) supersonic cruise missile. This cooperation has been fruitful and has resulted in BrahMos Aerospace - the joint venture between India's Defense Research and Development Organization and Russia's Federal State Unitary Enterprise NPO Mashinostroyenia that is developing the Brahmos missile - now looking to export its missiles as well.

The FGFA agreement will give India's defense ties with Russia "a new quality", India's Defense Minister Arackaparambil Kurian Antony said following the signing of the deal.

Defense cooperation between India and Russia (and Soviet Union earlier) goes back several decades. Except for a few years after the collapse of the Soviet Union when Delhi's relations with Moscow cooled, India's equation with Moscow has been close. India sees Moscow as a reliable friend. Indian officials often recall Russia's support to India's development priorities, and its willingness to engage in rupee-ruble trade with a foreign exchange strapped India and sell it weapons on "friendly terms".

While trade and economic cooperation have been significant, it is the close defense engagement that has defined the relationship. It is to Moscow that India turned for its defense purchases during the Cold War years and it is Moscow that continues to be India's number one supplier of military hardware to date, Delhi's warming relations with the United States in recent years notwithstanding. About 70% of India's military hardware is of Soviet or Russian make.

India's fighter fleet has been dominated for decades by the Russian MiGs. That is now changing with the Indians turning to the Sukhoi aircraft in the mid-1990s. The first contract for Sukhois was signed in 1996. It provided for the purchase of eight Su-30K and 40 Su-30 MKI. The second contract was for purchase of 10 Su-30 K, the third for licensed production of 140 Su-30 MKI and the fourth in March this year for purchase of 40 Su-30 MKI. The FGFA joint production agreement is the most recent.

The FGFA agreement is being celebrated as yet another triumph and symbolic of the deep defense engagement between India and Russia. But even as this engagement is being celebrated, a perceptible chill has crept into the relationship.

Reflecting this chill is the fact that neither Defense Minister Antony nor Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee met Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin during their visit to Moscow. It is customary for senior Indian ministers visiting Moscow to do so. Mukherjee had met Putin in Moscow in 2005 when he was defense minister, as did Jaswant Singh and Yashwant Sinha, who were ministers in the BJP-led NDA government. And to add salt to the injury, Mukherjee was stopped and frisked at the Moscow airport.

The Russians have been watching India's growing proximity to the US with concern. Besides, the bilateral defense engagement has

Continued 1 2 

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(24 hours to 11:59 pm ET, Oct 25, 2007)


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