US or Russia: For India its about finding the middle path
New Delhi, Oct 16: It may appear that India is increasingly leaning towards the West for defence technology in recent years, but the fact remains that military ties between New Delhi and Moscow are decades old and Russia will continue to play a big role in arms supply to India.
A majority of India's defense assets, ranging from air defense systems to tanks and fighter jets, are sourced from Russia. Russia continues to supply over 70% of military equipment to India and most importantly it shares critical technologies with India.
The recent deal to purchase S-400 triumf air defense system from Russia did not go down well with the US. In fact, India signed on the missile deal with sword of US sanctions hanging over it. India made it very clear that sanctions or no-sanctions, India-Russia defence ties would not be effected.
The US does not want any country to engage with Russia on defence matters. For this, the US has come up with a legislation called Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act or CAATSA which proposes sanctions on countries indulging with Russia in significant defence deals. US says that CAATSA is aimed at punishing Russia for its aggression in Ukraine and involvement in Syria's civil war.
Trump or Putin?
The situation for India is such that it cannot choose one over the other which means the New Delhi needs both the US and Russia for its defence requirements. India wants to maintain its storng military ties with Russia, but at the same time does not want to sour relations with the US.
For that matter, even the US may not take a strong stance and punish India for being close to Russia. By doing so, the US may harm defense relationship with India which is considered as one of the world's most lucrative markets for arms exporters. According to a 2017 report by the UK's Royal Institute of International Affairs, India was responsible for 10.3% of global arms imports between 2000 and 2016, with Russia supplying 72% of those imports. So, it is all pure business in a way. Everyone wants a share of India's big defence spending.
S-400 Triumf Air Defence system
S-400 deal is something which made headlines, apart from this there are many other India-Russia deals in the pipeline like New Delhi's plan to buy of four Krivak III-class frigates, a US$1.5 billion deal to build 200 Kamov-226T light helicopters in India and a billion-dollar contract to manufacture Kalashnikov assault rifles in India.
BrahMos is a result of India-Russia collaboration
India just cannot do away with its dependence on Russia for help in defence supplies. Two of the most important projects - BrahMos and Sukhoi- have Russian involvement. Moreover, there are still a lot MiG fighters in IAF's fleet which need service support from Russia. Russia has in the past stood by India as a strong ally, since Nehru's times.
IAF's Sukhoi fighter jet
As far the US is concerned, India Air Force is facing with the problem of depleting squadron strength. Reports suggest that India might consider a number of F-18 or F-16 fighter jets to address this problem. Recently, India had purchased Apache helicopters from the US. During PM Modi's last visit to the US, it was being speculated that India may buy Predator drones from US.
So, all in all, India needs both the US and Russia and cannot afford to irk either of them.