A HIGHLIGHT of Putin's visit was the signing of the four crucial defence agreements between India and Russia. The agreements, which have taken the existing defence relationship to a more substantial level, have shown that military technical cooperation c onstitutes the main aspect of the strategic partnership. The Joint Statement issued at the end of the Russian President's visit expressed satisfaction over the "increasing cooperation in the field of military technical cooperation, joint research and dev elopment and training". The agreement on the establishment of an Indo-Russian Inter-Governmental Commission on Military Technical Cooperation at a high ministerial level, would further intensify contact in this area".
The most ambitious component of the defence deal involves the purchase by India of more than 300 T-90S main battle tanks along with anti-tank guided missiles. There is an option to transfer technology and set up a manufacturing unit in the country. Anoth er contract allows India to assemble Sukhoi Su-30 fighter aircraft under licence from Russia. The Indian Air Force chief, Air Marshal A.Y. Tipnis, described the Su-30 as the "best aircraft available in its class". The Su-30 will be the IAF's main fighte r plane for the next decade. China, which produces the Su-27 under licence, will also be using Su-30s.
Moscow has agreed to lease four Tu-22 Backfire bombers. The Tu-22, a maritime reconnaissance and strike aircraft, can be fitted with Klub class missiles with a range of around 300 km. A deal to purchase Admiral Gorshkov, the aircraft carrier, was also cl inched.
Admiral Gorshkov will be refitted in Russia so that Indian naval planes such as the Sea Harrier can land on its deck. India is in urgent need of an aircraft carrier as the aging INS Viraat is undergoing repairs. The Navy's blue water capability would be under a question mark without another carrier. Admiral Gorshkov is expected to join the Navy in three years. New Delhi has also undertaken to buy a fighter regiment of Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29K aircraft for Admiral Gorshkov. "The teeth of the Indian Navy will continue to be Russian," said a senior Russian diplomat.
Although both sides are shy to reveal the amounts involved in the deals, the Russian media are speculating that they are worth $5billion to $7 billion. Hard bargaining preceded the signing of the three contracts.
For India, the new equipment on order will constitute a major force-multiplier. Already 70 per cent of the weaponry of the Indian armed forces are of Russian origin.
For Russia, the deals will constitute a major infusion of hard currency for its beleaguered economy. According to Russian sources, the two countries are now negotiating the sale of surface-to-air-missiles, artillery pieces, special purpose warplanes and sea-launched cruise missiles. The Indian Navy is on the verge of signing a contract for five more Kamov-31 air-borne early warning helicopters.
The T-90s, according to Indian defence officials, is needed to counter the Ukrainian T-80UD tanks purchased by Pakistan. The Army is not too happy with the indigenously built Arjun MBT tanks and the delay in their delivery has further complicated matters .