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Russia rants at India’s military buys

- Head of air show team claims costly western purchases lack logic
The Russian Knights arrive in formation in their Su-27s on the third day of Aero India 2013 at Yelahanka airforce base in Bangalore on Friday. (AFP)

Bangalore, Feb. 8: The Russian bear raged here today.

Viktor Komardin, the head of the Russian delegation to India’s military airshow Aero India, alleged that Delhi has bought aircraft, submarines and weapons from western countries at inflated prices “without military logic”.

Komardin is also the deputy chief of the Russian state arms exporter, Rosoboronexport.

He questioned the financial logic of the Indian government to procure weapons systems from countries that were not as longstanding partners as Russia despite getting no transfer of technology. “Ask your minister of finance. May be he has so much money to spare and India has no social problems,” he responded, barely able to conceal the sarcasm.

Komardin called a group of journalists to a small room in the Russian pavilion here and said his ire was directed against the Indian media that was not accurately reflecting Russia’s “rootedness” in the Indian armed forces. But he said the decisions to buy the Boeing-made C-17 Globemaster and Lockheed Martin-made C-130J Hercules (both US firms) transport aircraft were big mistakes because they were not suited to Indian military needs.

Such decisions are made by the government of India and not by the Indian media.

“It is not fair. Arms sales in military technology projects are now all politics. Billions of dollars are paid for procurements without transfer of technology. It is improper, it is unfair,” Komardin said. “I accept politics but fair should be fair. Russia is a strategic partner of India. We want to be dealt with as partners,” he added.

The angry remarks came even as a team of the Russian Knights, an aerobatic team from Moscow, landed here this afternoon after a three-day delay that a member of his delegation confirmed was caused “by delay in internal security clearance”. The issue was resolved only after Russian ambassador Alexander M. Kadakin requested national security adviser Shiv Shankar Menon to intervene.

A spokesperson for the Russian Knights team said after landing in Bangalore: “We were held up in Delhi for legal issues raised by the government of India and we could come here only because of diplomatic intervention.” The Knights had a similar problem in the UK in December and that was put down to incomplete paperwork by the Russians.

Komardin said India was also buying weapons and equipment from companies and countries that were also selling to Pakistan. The French, he said, had sold Agusta submarines to Pakistan and were selling Scorpene submarines to India. Lockheed Martin had sold Hercules aircraft to both Pakistan and India. Boeing, too, was selling to both Pakistan and India.

“But we do not do it, India does not want us to do it and we are a friend as a friend can be. We do not turn our backs to India.”

Komardin put out figures that are not officially borne out. He alleged India had bought 10 C-17 Globemaster aircraft for $10 billion though the long-haul strategic airlifters did not configure into the Indian military mindset.

“These aircraft are used for trans-Atlantic and transpacific requirements by the US military. What are they? Just big cargo planes. And you overlook the Il-76 that you (India) have been using for 20 years!” he said.

The C-17 contracted by India in 2009 through the Pentagon’s foreign military sales programme cost half the figure of $10 billion that Komardin quoted. The aircraft are bigger than the IL-76 procured from Russia. A C-17 can carry 75 tonnes and an IL-76, loads of 50 tonnes each.

Even as Komardin was railing against the shift in Indian military procurement policies, Boeing was taking another team of Indian journalists in a C-17 on a sortie over Bangalore’s skies to give them a feel of the aircraft.

The C-130J Hercules that the Indian Air Force has procured, he said, cannot accommodate the Russian-supplied Smerch multi-barelled rocket launchers. This would tell on the Indian armed forces’ operational abilities.

An Mi-26 salvages a Chinook helicopter. File picture

Komardin said Russia also thinks the choice of the Boeing-made Chinook helicopter for the IAF’s heavy-lift needs was wrong.

“What is the Chinook compared to (the Russian) Mi-26 (that was also in the competition)? It is a baby. The Mi-26 can lift the Chinook by the neck!” he said.

This is true. About three years ago, a Chinook helicopter of the US forces that went down in Afghanistan was salvaged by a chartered MI-26. Photographs of the MI-26 with the Chinook underslung have since been widely publicised.

The IAF has selected the Chinook for negotiations but the twin-rotor helicopter has not yet been contracted.

Komardin said Russia has $7-billion worth of arms transfer projects with India going currently, compared to the contracts that were signed with other countries. “I am pained that despite this, I find the Russian role in building India’s defence industry diminished,” he said.

Next year, it would be the 50th anniversary since India first signed a licensed production agreement with (the former) Soviet Russia for the MiG 21 FL fighter aircraft. Russia now has more than two dozen licence production agreements going with India. Among the projects are land systems involving tanks and armoured personnel carriers for the army, aircraft such as the Sukhoi 30 MKi for the air force and the Gorshkov carrier for the navy.

Asked about erratic supplies of spares for Russian-origin equipment and delays in deliveries, Komardin fumed that was also the case with other suppliers. He said the French had delayed the delivery of Scorpene submarines to the Indian Navy by three years, as the delivery of the Goshkov carrier has been delayed. “But there is talk in India of imposing penalties on us and not on the French,” he rued.

He said the equipment that India was procuring from Russia’s competitors would not stand the test in harsh conditions in the subcontinent.

“Russian armament is robust for warfighting, not effete. If we will sell you a chair, we will sell you a chair that lasts, not decorate it with foam and leather that will not last,” he said.

Komardin said that unlike its competitors, Russia did not want to publicise its defence deals with India “because we do not believe in disclosing Indian national secrets”.