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Russia cloud on defence self-reliance

- Moscow pushes its troop-carriers as Indian firms wait in wings
Putin

New Delhi, Dec. 21: A Russian bid to sell thousands of armoured troop-carriers to the Indian Army threatens to bury India’s effort at home to build its own military industrial complex.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to visit New Delhi on Monday in a tour that will see “dozens of bilateral agreements”, a government source said.

Watching from the wings will be top executives of Indian private companies — the Tatas, Mahindras, Larsen and Toubro and the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB).

Two years ago, the defence ministry invited the companies to participate in a drive to build a future infantry combat vehicle (FICV) — or armoured-car — to replace about 2,600 Soviet-origin BMPs that are part of the army’s mechanised forces.

The defence ministry bid was seen as the largest effort to involve Indian companies in manufacturing of military hardware. The FICV project was estimated to cost more than Rs 50,000 crore.

Self-reliance in defence manufacturing is the stated policy of the ministry. But over 70 per cent of military hardware is imported.

The defence ministry had decided to go through the companies’ proposals and select two firms for investment. But more than two years since it invited the companies, the ministry has not been able to decide on who it will partner.

The Indian companies had also tied up with foreign firms to develop the technology. But now Russia, sensing that the Indian Army needs to desperately replace or upgrade its BMPs, is urging India to settle for its latest variant of the troop-carriers.

Russia is India’s biggest defence supplier by far. Despite New Delhi’s recent unhappiness with Moscow’s deliveries, Russia will continue to have its customer in the Indian armed forces for at least the next 10 years.

During Putin’s visit, India is likely to agree to buy 42 more Sukhoi 30 MKi fighter aircraft under a licence-production arrangement with Hindustan Aeronautics. Each Sukhoi costs the exchequer about Rs 400 crore. The IAF wants to induct a total of 272 Sukhois.

The IAF is also likely to contract Russia for 72 Mi 17 V5 helicopters. These helicopters are being deployed for counter-insurgency missions to support central police forces in Maoist areas.

Last month, the Russian defence minister had told India that the delivery of aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov, for which India has paid up, would be delayed till the last quarter of 2013. The carrier was to have been delivered three years ago.