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Saturday, March 6, 2010

Putin to cement Russia's partner No. 1 status during India visit

Israel and US may be cornering major chunks of the lucrative Indian defence market but Russia still reigns supreme. This will be driven home when Russian PM Vladimir Putin comes visiting here next week, with a flurry of defence deals and joint projects slated for finalisation.

The contracts range from the fresh $2.34 billion deal for refit of aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov and the $1.2 billion deal for 29 more MiG-29K maritime fighters to the joint development of the stealth fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) and the multi-role transport aircraft (MTA), say officials.

Plans are also afoot to procure an additional 40-45 Sukhoi-30MKIs to add to the 230 of these fighters already contracted in deals worth $8.5 billion, as also more regiments of the Smerch MLRS (multiple-launch rocket systems) in addition to three already raised.

Putin's visit is also likely to see the finalisation of the commissioning of the K-152 Nerpa Akula-II nuclear-powered submarine in Indian Navy by May-June, under a 10-year lease flowing from a secretive deal inked in 2004.

The fresh agreement on Gorshkov, rechristened INS Vikramaditya by India, will however be the emblem to pronounce `all is well' in the bilateral defence relationship.

Acrimonious negotiations over the huge cost escalation in Gorshkov's refit have led to lot of bitterness over the last few years, which has also been fuelled by Russia's propensity to delay deliveries, jack-up costs midway and not provide proper product support.

India, on its part, is now reconciled to getting Gorshkov in 2013 - instead of the earlier August 2008 - by paying $2.34 billion instead of the $974 million earmarked for it in what was thought to be `a fixed price contract' when it was inked in January 2004.

The 29 more MiG-29Ks will be in addition to the 16 of these jets already contracted in the $1.5 billion Gorshkov package deal of 2004. With six MiG-29Ks already inducted in the Indian Navy, the jets are slated to operate both from the 44,570 tonne Gorshkov as well as the 40,000 tonne indigenous aircraft carrier being built at Cochin Shipyard, which should roll out by 2014-2015.

FGFA will be the futuristic project, with Russia's technology demonstrator Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FA beginning its flight trials earlier this year. India wants 250 of these fighters, built to its own specifications, to be inducted from 2017 onwards.

With supercruise capability, thrust-vectoring and integrated avionics, these stealth fighters will not come cheap. India's share of the developmental costs alone could touch $5 billion, with each jet costing extra.

Under the joint MTA project, worth $600 million in developmental costs, Russia will get 100 such planes, capable of carrying a 15-20 tonne military payload, while India will take 45 of them initially. Another 60 will be sold to other countries. At a later stage, the MTA will also be modified into a passenger aircraft of a 100-seater capacity.