IN the last week of December 2000, India and Russia signed their biggest-ever defence deal - for the licensed production of the Su-30MKI (Su 30 Modified-Commercial-Indian) fighter jets. The contours of the deal had been worked out during the visit of Pre sident Vladimir Putin to India in October. The deal signed in Irkutsk, where the factory manufacturing the Su-30s is located, is worth more than $3 billion. It provides for the production of 140 Su-30 fighters at Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) over a pe riod of 20 years.
Neither side has divulged the technical details of the deal. It is also not clear whether India will be licensed to produce the AI-31PF thrust vectoring engine of the Su-30. Russia had signed a similar deal with China in the mid-1990s for the licensed pr oduction of the Su-27 but Moscow refused to share the technological expertise with Beijing. But things are changing fast in Moscow. At the end of last year, a government decree put all military arms exports directly under the control of the President. Pu tin also issued another decree in December, which centralised all arms exports and effectively eliminated competition among Russian companies in the field.
Interestingly, it was announced in Moscow in December that Russia had supplied China with 10 Su-30MKK fighters for the first time. Russia had contracted to supply China 40 Su-30s in 1999. Russian officials have said that they expect the Chinese to procur e another batch of 40 Su-30s. There have been reports that China may be given the licence to produce the aircraft in large numbers. As Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported, "China's getting Su-30MKK fighters allows the Chinese Air Force to get down to mas tering the task that is principally new to them; gaining supremacy not only in the airspace over China's continental territory but also over remote theatres of ground force and naval operations." Under the inter governmental treaty on military technical cooperation between the two countries, Moscow and Beijing do not make public any information regarding deliveries of Russian-made weapons. The Russian media have reported that the military has expressed its doubts about the expediency of such large deliv eries of the latest weaponry to China. The Su-30s have not yet been inducted into the Russian Air Force.
If senior officials in the Indian defence establishment are to be believed, Moscow has given an assurance that the Su-30s would be sold exclusively to India in the Asian region. India will have around 70 Su-30s by 2010 when the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA ) is notionally slated to join the Air Force. By then the IAF would have acquired a small number of additional Mirage and Jaguar aircraft. Most of the MiG-21s would have been scrapped by then, except 125 MiG-21Bis, which are due for upgradation.
In 10 years' time there will be a void in the IAF, which in the normal course would have been expected to be filled by the LCA. By mid-2001, the IAF is expected to sign the contract for the purchase of Hawk advanced jet trainers from the United Kingdom. The deal would be worth more than $1.6 billion. The Indian government is also negotiating for the upgradation of MiG-27s and MiG-29s which have been in service for quite some time. If the Defence Research and Development (DRDO) team is not able to stick to its revised deadline on the LCA, the IAF and the Indian Navy would face a shortfall of fighter aircraft in the not-too-distant future.
The Navy, meanwhile, is going ahead with its plans to acquire the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov, along with 40 Russian MiG-29Ks, the air arm of the new carrier, at around Rs.120 crores each. A considerable amount of work is needed to refurbish the Go rshkov, which was used mainly as a helicopter carrier. India had agreed to pay $650 million for a full refit of the ship. Navy officials insist that Gorshkov is the best deal they have on offer. Right now India does not have an operational aircraft carri er. The lone aircraft carrier, the ageing INS Viraat, is undergoing repairs and refitting. Reports from Moscow indicate that Gorshkov's deck is too short to enable smooth short take-off of fighters like MiG-29s.
The Indian Navy has also ordered for three Krivak class frigates under a $1-billion contract. The Talwar class frigates are to be commissioned in two to three years' time. The 4,000-tonne frigates are armed with advance-guidance missiles that are effecti ve against surface, sub-surface and aerial targets and are also equipped with Stealth technology that enables them to avoid detection by enemy radars. Both the Indian Navy and the Chinese Navy have gone in for the sophisticated Russian-made Kilo class su bmarine.
India has decided to buy 310 Russian-made T-90 tanks. The deal is estimated to be worth over Rs.3,000 crores, though negotiations on the final price tag are still on. Moscow is said to be demanding around $120,000 a tank. Around 100 tanks will be purchas ed outright and the rest will arrive in a knocked down condition for local assembly. The Indian Army will have all the T-90s by 2004. The decision to go in for the T-90s came in the wake of Pakistan's purchase of 300 T-80 tanks from Ukraine for induction into offensive formations along the border. Under the terms of the T-90 deal, Russia has agreed to the transfer of technology. According to Russian experts, the T-90 is an advanced version of the T-80. The T-90 has not yet been inducted into the Russian armed forces.