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In recent years, India has invested enormous resources in its military. At the same time, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Make-in-India’ initiative, the Indian economy has succeeded in developing many indigenous cutting-edge technologies in the defence sector.

With the annual Indian state budget to be discussed in Parliament in early 2020, ‘strategic watchers’ are hedging their bets on a large part of the budget being allocated in the revenue category as in in 2019. The ever increasing pension bill seems to be taking the’lion’s share’ and the picture is slightly grim with the decreasing GDP growth rate of India, which declined from 7.67% to 5% in the last quarter of 2019. While the 2018 defence budget grew by 7.8%, there was a decline in 2019 to 6.8%. The budget allocation for defence in 2017 was INR2.74Tr and, in 2018 it was INR2.95Tr while in 2019 was INR3.18Tr.

The Indian Navy

The Indian Air Force Light Combat Aircraft TEJAS received Final Operational Clearance during Aero India 2019. (Photo: via author)

The most awaited conventional submarine contract for the Indian Navy, INR450Bn for six submarines, is yet to have its global tender floated. A Request for Information was sent out last year to DCNS Naval Group of France, Navantia of Spain, TKMS of Germany, Daewoo of South Korea, Saab of Sweden and Rosoboron of Russia. Saab has apparently pulled out of the competition owing to a lack of accountability from the Indian side, as this would be a joint venture between the chosen foreign Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) and an Indian partner. The Indian partners would be chosen from Larsen & Toubro, Mazagaon Dock Limited (MDL – a government-owned Mumbai based defence public sector unit), Adani-HSL (the state-owned Hindustan Shipyard Limited public sector unit) combine.

This contract goes by the name ‘Project 75(i)’, and is for an additional six diesel-electric submarines with Air Independent Propulsion system (AIP) to be integrated on all these submarines. This contract will be under a strategic partnership model, which entails an Indian partner, whether private or public sector, to choose its foreign OEM, based on the technical compliance. These submarines will comply with ISR missions, besides special force and mining operations, anti-submarine warfare and supporting operations ashore.
The ongoing Project 75 for the SCORPENE class submarines, worth INR500Bn, is progressing as planned in the Mumbai-based MDL as a joint venture with the French DCNS group, under ‘Make-in-India’ transfer of technology. Under Project 75, the first two submarines, INS KALVERI and INS KHANDERI, have been commissioned into the Indian Navy. These SCORPENE class conventional diesel-electric submarines are 67.5 metres long, 12.3 metres in height and are equipped with missiles, torpedoes and sensors. The first submarine was commissioned in 2017. The Indian Navy has been projecting the need for having AIP on the SCORPENE class, but India’s indigenous Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) has been developing its own AIP, along with the Indian Navy’s Naval Design Bureau, but does not seem to be in a position to have it integrated in the SCORPENE class. An Indian naval officer has stated that, “Since the indigenous AIP is still being tested, it will be integrated only in the next line of submarines, which is Project 75(i).”

The ‘Make-in-India’ Initiative

The Indian Navy has long projected its need to replace its ageing submarine fleet comprising of 10 Russian KILO class and four German HDW Typ-209 submarines. Owing to legal cases involving alleged kickback corruption, the acquisition has been long delayed.
The Indian Navy’s Naval Design Bureau has been a full participant as far as submarine and warship design is concerned, thereby showing its commitment to the Government`s ‘Make-in-India’ vision. Since December 2018, close to 88% of contracts and Acceptance of Necessity (AoN), by value, have been concluded with Indian vendors. Out of the 50 ships and submarines currently under construction, 48 are being built in Indian shipyards.

The AKASH is a domestically developed medium-range mobile surface-to-air missile defence system. (Photo: via author)

Ambitious Naval Programmes

The Indian Navy has embarked on an ambitious modernization programme, which comprises the indigenous aircraft carrier VIKRANT, which is likely to be launched in 2022, currently under construction in the Cochin Shipyard Limited. Other programmes scheduled for delivery in the first half of 2020 are the P-15B class destroyers, P17A class stealth frigates, Offshore Patrol Vessels and a P28 ASW corvette. The delivery of four additional P8I Maritime Reconnaissance Aircraft is scheduled by 2021, under the contract with Boeing for eight units.

The Indian Navy has also contracted for 16 ASW Shallow Water Craft and 36 aircraft, which includes the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) built 12 Dorniers, 16 Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) and eight CHETAK helicopters. AoN has also been accorded for 41 ships, for 31 helicopters, for the long pending 24 multi-role helicopters and six additional P 8I aircraft.

The Indian Navy requirement for Naval Utility Helicopters (NUH) is for 111 helicopters, worth roughly US$10Bn. The deal will be under the Strategic Partnership model in a similar way to the Project 75(i) submarine deal. The Indian companies are Bharat Forge, Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL), Adani Group and Mahindra while the front-runner foreign OEMs are Sikorsky, Russian Helicopters and Airbus. Retired Naval Aviator Rear Admiral S.M. Vadgaonkar commented, “These Naval Utility Helicopters will replace the ageing CHETAK helicopters, which are of the 1960s vintage and modernization is about having the latest capability to meet the modern day challenges, like anti-piracy and high altitude, etc.”

The former Chair of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) P.V. Deshmukh has stated, “The Government owes HAL approximately INR150Bn, the payment of which has been delayed as the Government is holding back funds for deals like the S-400 air defence system and the RAFALE fighters, for which an immediate payment will have to be released. As the economy is not doing so well, and the defence allocation in the Union budget not looking very good, the Government needs to find state funds for its welfare schemes, and so defence modernization might suffer temporarily.”

Naval Chief Admiral Karambir Singh highlighted last month in his annual press conference, “The Indian Navy envisages the induction of three Aircraft Carriers, which it has projected in its long-term capability plan so that two CBGs will be available to be dispersed deployments in the Indian Ocean Region at all times. The broad contours of IAC 2, to be constructed in India as a 65,000 tonnes CATOBAR carrier with electric propulsion, have been formulated and the case will be processed for accord of an AoN.”

While Indian MoD sources have confirmed that the production of a second. Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC-2) has been shelved due to its exorbitant price tag, as consultancy being offered by US and Sweden were taking up most of the funding of the contract.The Indian Navy has now placed its efforts in enhancing its in-house expertise in the repair and upkeep of modern weapon and sensors. Two major Armament Repair Facilities are being set up and are likely to be commissioned by mid-2020.

To support its fleets to operate effortlessly over the entire IOR, several marine and technical repair infrastructure projects are also in the pipeline. A new Dry-Dock was commissioned by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in September 2019, mainly to service aircraft carriers. Phase II-A of Project Seabird at Karwar at the Western seaboard will have a full-fledged naval dockyard and associated infrastructure in order to accommodate more ships and submarines.

India`s first aircraft carrier INS VIKRAMADITYA, which India obtained from Russia. Originally, the carrier`s name was ADMIRAL GORSHKOV. (Photo: Indian Navy)

The Indian Navy has also begun the process of indigenising complex and high end technology equipment, which is presently being imported, such as marine diesel engines, power generators and shafting and propellers, with active participation of the public and private sector, with an aim of reducing the dependency on imports while progressively increasing indigenous content in the shipbuilding projects.

The requirements of armament and weapon systems for Naval programmes under ‘Make-in-India’ will boost Indian SMEs and industries (public as well as private) and foreign OEMs. This also presents excellent opportunities for the creation of several consortia that could work together for the realization of complete systems, rather than being merely confined to subsystems. These arrangements must necessarily look to take advantage of India’s SME eco-system, which have excelled in the development of many naval technologies.

Nuclear Submarines

While India’s first indigenous nuclear submarine, as part of its six SSBNs, was commissioned in 2016, the second in line has been launched but not yet commissioned. The tactical submarine – INS CHAKRA, which is under a 10-year lease from Russia – completes its lease in 2022. CHAKRA-III, which is undergoing refurbishment in Russia, as per Indian requirements, will join the Indian Navy in 2025 under a US$3Bn deal. CHAKRA-III will be powered by a 190 MW nuclear reactor. It will weigh approximately 8,140 tonnes, have a speed of 30 knots, an operating depth of 530 metres and will be able to carry a 73-member crew.

The Indian Navy also has plans to build an additional six tactical attack nuclear powered submarines-SSNs under the ‘Make-in-India’ programme. While Russian consultancy will be roped in like the ongoing SSBN ARIHANT class programme, design will be carried out in-house by the Naval Design Bureau and manufacturing by Indian companies such as Larsen & Toubro and Hindustan Shipyard Limited.

The ongoing ARIHANT class programme is named S-5, with INS ARIHANT being S-1-prototype. The last submarine S-5 is being aimed to be completely indigenous; it will have the capability to dive up to a depth of 1000 metres. The pre-technical design for S-5 will begin this and the technical design and workshop design will be in place over the next three years, followed by keel laying.


BrahMos missile launchers on parade during Indian Army Day in 2013. The BrahMos missile is said to be one of the world`s fastest missiles. (Photo: Indian Navy)

Meanwhile, the various shipyards have their order books full, with a lot of launches witnessed last year such as the INS IMPHAL, the third ship of Project 15B (VISAKHAPATNAM class) stealth guided missile Destroyer deal. The first domestically manufactured stealth frigate, out of a contract for seven under Project-17A INS NILGIRI, was launched at MDL, Mumbai on 28 September 2019.

The fourth submarine of Project 75 was launched last May. The submarine is named INS VELA.

The Keel laying ceremony of the fourth ship of Project 15B (VISAKHAPATNAM class) was held in November 2019, of the second ship of Project 17A in May 2019 in Mumbai, of the first of the Survey Vessel Large in November 2019 in Kolkata, and the steel cutting of the second ship of P-17A commenced in Kolkata.

11 surface platforms (two Off-Shore Patrol Vessels, three Fast Patrol Vessels, six INTERCEPTOR Boats (IBs) have been inducted into the Indian Navy’s 2019 calendar.

Indian Air Force

2019 has been a great year for the Indian Air Force (IAF), with large procurements like the CHINOOK and the APACHE. In July, the IAF took the first deliveries of 15 Boeing CHINOOK heavy-lift helicopters CH-47F (I). The US$1Bn deal is progressing well. The delivery of the CHINOOK helicopters will be completed by March 2020. Ten helicopters have been received so far. The CHINOOKs will be based at the Chandigarh Air Force Base under the Western Air Command for high altitude operations, for example, taking care of the supply line to the Siachen glacier and the Line of Actual Control bordering China in Ladakh.

Under a multi-billion-dollar deal with Boeing for 22 AH-64E APACHE, the world’s most advanced multi-role combat helicopter, the IAF received its first four helicopters in 2018. APACHE is a tandem seating, day/night, all weather capable platform. It is highly agile, survivable against battle damage and is easily maintainable even in field conditions. As a multi-role network centric platform capable for deployment in Air Combat, AD, CI Ops, UAV neutralization, CSAR, and urban warfare, the aircraft meets all the requirements of the IAF as well as the Strike Corps requirements of the Army. Fitted with a ‘state-of-the-art’ Fire Control Radar, the AH-64 has the capability to detect, locate, designate, track and engage targets in daylight, night, and in reduced visibility conditions. India is also purchasing six AH-64 APACHEs for the Indian Army.

The Spanish Airbus C-295 transport plane due to replace the ageing IAF AVROs has been pending for a long time, out of the 56 AVROs to be replaced, 16 will be bought ‘off-the-shelf’ and the remaining will be built in India under ‘Make-in-India’ transfer of technology.
The HAL, which is manufacturing the Light Combat Helicopter to replace the CHEETAH and CHETAK helicopters of the IAF, is still to be finalized. Meanwhile the HAL will partner with Russia’s Kamov to manufacture close to 200 Ka-226 helicopters, the deal for which has been signed, for use by the IAF.

HAL is also awaiting the orders from the IAF for the 83 LCAs in the Mark-1A category, which is an advanced fighter.

In the order book of the HAL is the HTT-40 fighter trainer for the IAF, after HPT-32 will soon be decommissioned and PILATUS has run into a controversy alleged kickbacks taken by the previous Congress Government. The first phase training will be on the HTT-40, followed by the second phase of the KIRAN trainers, which will be replaced by the HAL manufactured IJT (Intermediate Jet Trainer).The IJT had issues with its spin test has been modified but is still pending initial trials. The third phase training is on HAWKs followed by the training of the particular fighter.

114 Fighter Jet Deal

The IAF has a squadron strength of 32.5, while its projected requirement is 45 fighter squadrons. India received the first of 36 RAFALE fighters on 8 October 2019 in Bordeaux, France, where Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh attended the handing over ceremony. The IAF is due to receive this jet in May 2000. The first omnirole RAFALE squadron – the 17 Squadron ‘Golden Arrows’ – will be based in Ambala, India. The INR590Bn deal for the 36 RAFALEs was announced in 2015 and was inked in 2016, with the jets due to be delivered in batches until mid-2022. The training of IAF personnel is currently in progress in France.
The Request for Information for the 1.5 lakh crore 114 fighter jet deal for the IAF has been awarded to the following vendors: Boeing for the F-18, Lockheed Martin for the F-21, which was unveiled in February 2019, Sweden for the Saab GRIPEN, Dassault Aviation for the RAFALE, EADS for the Eurofighter TYPHOON, and Russia for the MiG-35.

All of the above fighters have already been participants of the decade-long MMRCA competition, which explains why the IAF plans to hold swift trials in order to save time, as the competitors have undergone trials already.

Under ‘Mission Shakti’, DRDO successfully launched a Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) Interceptor missile in an Anti-Satellite missile test, engaging an orbiting Indian target satellite on 27 March 2019. (Photo: via author)

S-400 Air Defence System

The deal with Russia for the S-400 TRIUMPH air defence missile system for INR400Bn was finalized in June 2018 and signed in 2019. India has signed up for five units for defensive purposes. This long-range ‘surface-to-air’ missile system can target aircraft, incoming ballistic and cruise missiles and also ground targets. India wants to position them on its 4,000-km-long eastern border with China. It is suitable for mountainous regions owing to its capability of detecting cruise missiles within 40 kilometres, as they can operate in low-altitude flight paths.

The S-400 TRIUMF mobile multi-channel missile system comes with a YAMZ-8424.10 Diesel V12 400 HP/294kW engine and is equipped with a warhead that is directed to ensure complete destruction of targets. A gas system fires the missiles from a launch tube up to an altitude of 30 metres. The S-400 is a complete system with an aim to effectively combat future air threats.

New Delhi has discussed the issue of getting immunity from the newly formulated US ‘Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act’ (CAATSA), as Moscow was placed under sanctions. Under CAATSA, the US can punish those countries that engage in defence business transactions with Russia. India has been a long-time partner of Russia and is the largest buyer of defence hardware. For example, US sanctions on Rosoboronexport can affect deals worth billions of dollars.

Payment Issues for the S-400

The Russian arms company Rosoboronexport has been placed under sanctions by the US Office of Foreign Assets Control and is thus one of more than 40 Russian arms-producing OEMs affected by sanctions. It is a matter of making payments and finding a legal and secure way to avoid US sanctions, as the State Bank of India (SBI) cannot be used for this purpose. In all defence transactions, India uses the SBI for payment purposes, but when dealing with Russia, SBI cannot be involved.

Talks are ongoing with other banks, like the Vijaya Bank and UCO Bank, according to sources. According to a Government official, “Either payment will be made in kind, a sort of a barter, or through these banks, where Russia will open an account and trade in the Indian Rupee, so that SBI is not affected by sanctions. Vijaya and UCO banks are not affected by sanctions, therefore they could be used. India buys oil from Russia and exports pharma products, chemicals and food products, so these products could be traded as barter.”


The IAF is procuring 18 squadrons of Medium Range ‘surface-to-air’ Missile System jointly developed by DRDO and Israel Aerospace Industries. Its induction will be from early this year. The contract for seven additional indigenous AKASH missile squadrons and associated specialist infrastructure was signed last September, the induction for which will commence from 2021.

The IAF has contracted for 272 Su-30 MKI aircraft under various contracts. Presently, deliveries are continuing under a block IV contract and are likely to conclude by March 2020. The Su-30 MKI currently is the largest and amongst the most potent fighter fleet in operation within the IAF. The discussions for an upgrade of these frontline fighters to be done by HAL are ongoing.

The ASTRA BVR missile being designed and developed by DRDO has been evaluated for its performance and a missile test with a foreign client was successful. The IAF plans to procure these missiles for its fighter aircraft. Three missiles were launched in combat configuration with warheads and neutralized manoeuvring targets to establish the end-game capability of the missile. The trial campaign also included a direct hit of the target by the telemetered missile at maximum range.

The successful integration of the Indo-Russian BrahMos surface-to-air’ missile on Su-30MKI aircraft to enhance the strategic significance and combat potential of the aircraft has been concluded. DRDO and IAF jointly successfully conducted two BrahMos supersonic cruise missile tests – one each from land and air platforms. The first missile launch was from a land based mobile launcher, where most of the components were indigenous, including the missile airframe, fuel management system and DRDO- designed seeker.

The IAF has inducted the Do-228 Dornier aircraft with on-board Flight Inspection System (FIS) to undertake the Cat-II calibration of navigational aids available at Modernized Airfield Infrastructure (MAFI) at IAF bases. The induction of FIS aircraft would facilitate the in-house calibrations of MAFI assets and Navaids.


The Final Operational Clearance (FOC) of the MIRAGE-2000 fighters had been completed in March 2018 and series production is underway. The upgraded MiG-29 fighter aircraft have been allotted to a frontline squadron and are currently being used in operation. They are equipped with ‘state-of-the-art’ avionics, an array of smart ‘air-to-air’ and ‘air-to-ground’ weapons and are capable of in-flight refuelling, which significantly increases their combat potential.

The upgrading of Jaguar DARIN-I JAGUAR aircraft to the DARIN-III standard by HAL included integration of new mission computers, cockpit displays (SMDs, Engine and Flight Instrumentation System), Fire Control Radar, Hybrid navigation system and Autopilot with advanced modes. With the integration of these systems through new mission software, the cockpit has been transformed into a fully functional glass cockpit. With the integration of the radar as primary sensor, the operational capability of the JAGUAR aircraft in detecting air, surface and sea targets has been greatly enhanced. With the avionics of DARIN-III aircraft, capability has improved significantly. Flight trials for the FOC was completed in November 2019. The DARIN-III platform has matured into a potent strike platform with ‘state-of-the-art’ integration of on-board sensors. The delivery of upgraded aircraft will commence in December 2019.

Successful Tests

DRDO has successfully completed a number of tests. The first ever arrested landing of a Navy Light Combat Aircraft at the Shore-Based Test Facility INS Hansa in Goa was successful. The test will pave the way for the indigenous platform to undertake landings on board the Indian aircraft carrier VIKRAMADITYA. Text book arrested landing heralded the arrival of a truly indigenous capability.

Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) is an indigenous system successfully developed by DRDO. The second AEW&C aircraft was handed over to IAF in September 2019. The system was delivered to Bhatinda Air Force Station in the Punjab, Punjab. The system comprises an Active Electronically Scanned Array radar, secondary surveillance radar, electronic and communication countermeasures, beyond ‘line-of-sight’ data links, satellite communication systems, advanced identification friend-or-foe system, provides 240° coverage, and a surveillance range of more than 250 km.

The DRDO flight-tested indigenously developed low weight, fire-and-forget Man Portable Antitank Guided Missile (MPATGM). The missile was launched from a man portable tripod launcher on the target mimicking a functional tank. This was the third series of successful testing of the MPATGM. The missile has a ‘state-of-the-art’ Infrared Imaging Seeker along with advanced avionics.

The DRDO has also successfully tested the ‘state-of-the-art’ Quick Reaction Surface-to-Air Missile (QRSAM) against live aerial targets. Two missiles were tested against two live targets, meeting complete mission objectives of engaging the targets. QRSAM, with many advanced technologies, engaged the targets at different ranges and altitudes. The system has been tested in final configuration with radar mounted on a vehicle and missile on the launcher. It comprises an indigenous Phased Array Radar, Inertial navigation System, Data Link and RF Seeker, and is being developed for the Indian Army with ‘search-and-track’ and ‘on-the-move’ capability with very short reaction time.

India also joined a select group of countries with an Anti-Satellite (ASAT) missile capability after undertaking a successful test ‘Mission Shakti’. A DRDO developed Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) Interceptor Missile engaged a Live Indian satellite orbiting in Low Earth Orbit in a ‘hit-to-kill’ mode. The interceptor missile was a three-stage missile with two solid rocket boosters. Tracking data from range sensors confirmed that the mission met all its objectives. The test demonstrated India’s capability to defend its assets in outer space and vindicated the strength and robust nature of DRDO’s programmes.

Indian Army

In December 2019, the Indian Army began introducing the newly purchased Sig Sauer assault rifles. The first batch comprises 10,000 SiG 716 assault rifles for the sensitive northern borders. The Army has signed a contract for more than 70,000 new assault rifles to replace the obsolete Indian 5.56x45mm Insas rifles.

At the same time, India and Russia have signed a contract for 650,000 Kalashnikov AK-103/203 assault rifles to be built in India for the army’s combat units, replacing the INSAS and AK-47 rifles. The joint venture is between the Russian Kalashnikov and the Indian Ordnance Factory Board for the production of the AK-103 in India. It applies first primarily to the Indian Army, then to other Indian customers such as the Central Police, followed then by export orders.

Suman Sharma is a Delhi-based journalist covering foreign policy and defence. Before that she was an instructor in the Indian Military Academy.