Defence minister Manohar Parrikar, on the eve of his departure to Russia, says he hopes to “prepare some contracts for signing during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s annual summit visit to Russia in December.
In an interview on Thursday to Russian news agency ITAR-TASS, Parrikar said: “For example, the project for joint production of Kamov Ka-226 helicopters. I hope to use my visit to have it inked on paper when the prime minister arrives. Also the purchase of S-400 missile systems. We anticipate these projects to be coordinated by next month.”
Although he did not state this during his interview, ITAR-TASS is reporting on its website that “Russia is to lease another nuclear submarine to India in December”.
In 2012, India had leased a 12,000-tonne Akula-class nuclear-powered attack submarine, the INS Chakra, for a ten-year period for $900 million. At that time, then defence minister, AK Antony, had confirmed that negotiations were under way for a second nuclear submarine.
The Kamov-226T is a 3.5 tonne, two-pilot, light helicopter that is specially modified with a new engine for Indian requirements, primarily high-altitude operations along the Himalayan borders.
At their last summit meeting in New Delhi in January, President Vladimir Putin had personally requested the Indian prime minister for Russian Helicopters to be awarded a contract for building 197 Kamov-226T reconnaissance and observation helicopters in India.
This will be built under the “Make in India” initiative. The Indian partner is being decided and is likely to either be Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) or Reliance Defence.
The S-400, known in Russia as Triumf, is an extremely potent, long-range, ground-to-air defence system that is used to protect area targets from missiles that are fired from 40-400 kilometres away.
Parrikar also said he would press Russia hard for ensuring a high serviceability of Sukhoi-30MKI (Su-30MKI) fighter jets, through a smooth and reliable supply of spare parts and systems. There is concern within the Indian Air Force (IAF) that its Su-30MKI fleet, which will eventually comprise of 272 fighters, has had serviceability rates as low as 45 to 50 per cent.
Parrikar told TASS: “We have almost 220 of them (Su-30MKI) now and ultimately the number will reach 270, which represents about 40 per cent of IAF. When you have 40 per cent of air force strength from a particular maker, you are obviously interested in ensuring that they are serviced properly. Those aspects will be discussed and we are coming to conclusions, to solutions to the problem. I hope that these problems will be resolved very soon so service operation is substantially enhanced.”
The proposal for India and Russia to co-develop two major aircraft – the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) and the Multi-Role Transport Aircraft (MRTA) – has been in trouble for some time. Parrikar spelt out the problems in both projects.
“As for the FGFA, negotiations will proceed further and we have halted ourselves to establish things clear in our minds. But with the Multi-Role Transport Aircraft, there are serious issues needing clarification, let me be frank. There are some serious observations which need to be clarified and reviewed properly,” said the Indian defence minister.
Finally, Parrikar revealed that the IAF intended to finalise the purchase from Russian Helicopters of another 48 Mi-17V-5 helicopters, consolidating its position as the workhorse of the IAF fleet. With this purchase, the IAF will be operating some 280 Mi-17 helicopters.
Parrikar will leave for Moscow and St Petersburg on October 30, and will meet his Russian counterpart in Moscow on November 2. Later that day, he will leave for a three-day visit to Malaysia, to attend the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus. Late on Thursday evening, a meeting of the apex Defence Acquisition Council cleared a clutch of acquisitions: four 3,500-tonne multi-purpose vessels (MPVs) for the navy for duties like towing targets and tugs, for a cost of Rs 700 each; two Deep Submergence Rescue Vessels (DSRVs) for deep-sea rescue for Rs 750 crore each; 149 BMP-2 infantry combat vehicles to be built in India for Rs 924 crore; two Pinaka multi-barrel rocket regiments for Rs 3,300 crore; and the upgrade of IL-76 and IL-78 aircraft for Rs 4,300 crore.