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Russia will soon begin talks with India to kickstart a number of joint projects for the Indian armed forces aimed at local production of high-end products under the ‘Make in India’ initiative.

While the largest delegation at Aero India 2023, which runs from 13-17 February in Yelahanka, Bangalore, may be from the United States, Moscow seems to be leaving no stone unturned in wooing its old and trusted partner for defence exports.

The Su-57E is the export variant of the Su-57 fifth-generation fighter, which is not yet known to have been offered to India. (Photo: S Sharma)

“The Military-technical co-operation between Russia and India is an example of industrial partnership with a number of completed and ongoing joint projects for all services of the armed forces,” said Alexander A Mikheev, Rosoboronexport Director General, on the side-lines of the air show on 14 February. “Today we are offering new points of co-operation within the joint development and production of high-tech products on the premises of Indian enterprises under the national ‘Make in India ‘programme in compliance with all localisation and technology transfer requirements,” he added.

Notwithstanding the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, Russian stands representing defence export agency Rosoboronexport, United Aircraft Corporation and the Almaz Antey Air and Space Defence Corporation are present at the show. Having always stood out for the scale and range of their exhibited products, the Russian exhibitors are taking advantage of Aero India to showcase modern Russian weaponry and discuss areas for further bilateral co-operation with India.

At the show Rosoboronexport is exhibiting around 200 examples of Russian arms and military hardware, including the advanced Su-57E fifth-generation multirole fighter, the Checkmate light tactical fighter, the Il-76MD-90A(E) military transport aircraft, the Il-78MK-90A tanker aircraft, the Su-35 and Su-30SME fighters and the MiG-35D multirole fighter.

India’s helicopter deal with Russia relating to the Ka-226T has been delayed as the Indian government promotes its ‘Make in India’ initiative. (Photo: S Sharma)

It is interesting to note that this comes in the wake of Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval’s recent visit to Moscow, where he met Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier in February along with Secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikolai Patrushev.

Rosoboronexport is also presenting the Ka-226T light utility helicopter at Aero India, production of which is suggested to be launched under the ‘Make in India’ programme on the premises of joint venture Indo-Russian Helicopters Limited.

In addition to the Ka-226T, a wide range of Russian military helicopters is being demonstrated at Aero India 2023. Among these are upgraded versions of the Ka-52E and Mi-28NE attack helicopters and the Mi-171Sh military transport helicopter. According to a Rosoboronexport statement, “There is a growing demand for Ka-52E, Mi-28NE and Mi-171Sh [helicopters] in the Asia-Pacific region.”

Rosoboronexport is trying to strike deals under the ‘Make in India’ initiative in relation to the Pantsir-S1 SPAAG/M. (Photo: S Sharma)

Russian unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) including the Orion-E reconnaissance/strike UAV, the Orlan-10E reconnaissance UAV and the Orlan-30 reconnaissance UAV, which is a relatively new product launched in 2022, are also on display.

In the air defence segment Rosoboronexport is showcasing Russian industry’s entire range of export offers, which can operate both independently or as part of an integrated air defence system. The Russian display includes the S-350E Vityaz, Viking Tor-M2KM and Tor-M2E surface-to-air missile systems as well as the Pantsir-S1 self-propelled anti-aircraft gun/missile (SPAAG/M) system. Rosoboronexport is also offering India the Igla-S and Verba manportable air defence systems (MANPADS) and is displaying an array of counter-UAV systems at Aero India 2023, including the Repellent, RLK-MTsE, RB-504P-E and RB-504A-E systems.

Negotiations between India and Russia to jointly produce the Russian Kamov Ka-226T helicopter, a deal valued at USD 1 Bn, have been ongoing for almost a decade, with an agreement signed in December 2015 for the creation of a joint venture between Rostec, Russian Helicopters and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to build the helicopters at the new facility in Tumkuru in southern India. This was recently inaugurated by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the aim of replacing the ageing Chetak and Cheetah helicopters of the Indian Army and Indian Air Force (IAF).

In service with the IAF, the sturdy Il-76 military transport aircraft is considered a reliable workhorse. (Photo: S Sharma)

However, a deal with Moscow regarding the Ka-226T remains pending as the ‘Make in India’ initiative gathers momentum amid reports that the indigenous HAL Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) may be likely to replace the Chetaks and Cheetahs.

“Rosoboronexport plans to hold substantive meetings and negotiations with the Ministry of Defence and other security agencies of India [for these products],” the company said in a statement. It added, “The company expects to work extensively with state-owned and private enterprises of the Indian defence industry with a view to expanding the scope of industrial partnership between Russia and India in accordance with the ‘Make in India’ requirements.”

Suman Sharma