Since the 1960s, the Indian Armed Forces have been the main source of sustenance fuel to the erstwhile USSR and later Russian weapons industry. Over 80 percent of our military hardware is of Soviet origin. In the first 15 years of independent India, no new weapons were procured. The governments then were focusing on the indigenization of the weapon systems. That is why the Indian Army had to fight the 1962 Indo-China war with Second World War era weapons, while the Chinese soldiers were equipped with latest automatic weapons.
After the war, New Delhi learnt the tough lesson and turned towards, USSR for the modernization of its forces. Soon all the three services started getting weapons of USSR make. Initially it was a win-win situation for both the countries, as most of the western countries were not willing to sell their modern weapons to India as they considered it close to the Eastern Bloc. Moreover, western weapon systems were too expensive for the very modest Indian economy. India therefore had to turn towards the USSR which did not ask for hard cash and was willing to sell weapons in lieu of grain, wool, etc. India also got a reliable friend to strategically distract its enemy, China. USSR seized the opportunity of getting a permanent customer for its weapons industry. It helped to ensure a smooth flow of money to the USSR for the development of the next generation weapons. USSR also got a reliable friend in South East Asia to counter the growing influence of the USA.
But the situation has changed now. The IAF has made a great strategic move by turning towards the West for most of the main weapon platforms.
The main reasons for this shift are:
- Consequent to the 1992 financial reforms, India has evolved as the biggest arms market for companies all over the world. So most of the western countries have been doing serious business with India. This has helped in creating a relationship of trust between India and the western countries.
- India is now a strong economy with an average growth rate of almost 9 percent. Increased defense budgets allow Indian Armed Forces to go for more advanced, reliable and technologically sophisticated western weapon systems.
- In next 10-15 years, India will procure weapon systems worth $40 billion. All the big daddies in the weapon business want to grab the biggest piece of the cake.
- In the past, India had put all its eggs in the same basket. More than one vendor will remove dependency and competition will force all the competitors to field the best weapons and offer the best possible deal.
- Quality standards of western weapons are far superior than that of Russian make. French Mirage aircraft and Israeli weapon systems have scored their impression on the Indian Armed Forces.
- Indian Armed Forces, especially the IAF, have suffered great losses due to lack of spare parts.
- Russia has given India a difficult time in fulfilling its promises like the transfer of technology of T 90 tanks.
- On most occasions, Russia has been failing to meet the promised deadline of delivery, like Project 11356 Krivak IV class guided missile frigates (built in 2004), Aircraft Carrier Gorshkov and IL 76 aircraft for AWACS. Russia miscalculated the time taken to modernize the IL 76 (for AWACS program) by integrating new engine and avionics that caused the whole program to be delayed by 1.5 years.
- $964 millions Aircraft Carrier Admiral Gorshkov deal was signed in 2004 after long negotiations of six years. About two years ago, Moscow informed that it had miscalculated the length of wiring to be done inside the ship. Moscow demanded more money and raised the total cost of the project to $2.2 billion and then to $2.9 billion. Finally, India agreed to pay $2.2 billion, but Moscow insisted on $2.9 billions. This proved to be the last nail in the coffin.
Due to all these factors, Indian forces are now considering and selecting western weapon systems. The contract for of French Scorpene Submarines and contract of developing Barak-NG Missiles are few examples. New Delhi is so annoyed that on the induction ceremony of the AWACS, Defence Minister AK Antony gave a dressing down to Russian and Israeli ambassadors and asked them to ensure that the defence equipments are delivered on scheduled time. There are couple of follow-on orders that Russia was sure of gettin, but the IAF has favored western platforms. These two orders are aircraft for AWACS system and mid-air refueller aircraft.
India is set to place a follow-on order for three more AWACS systems and is seriously considering American Gulfstream, Brazilian Embraer jets and European Airbus. An official said, “We will replace the IL-76 by a modern aircraft like the Gulfstream or Embraer. Both have an endurance of nine hours – that is close to what the Russian aircraft has”. But selecting any of these two aircraft will have the problem of having too many platforms in the inventory, as the IAF will have to maintain separate maintenance line for each type of aircraft. The IAF is already considering Airbus A330 multi-role tanker transport (MRTT) for an order of six more mid-air refuellers as the IAF found MRTT far better than IL-78 in the crucial flight evaluation. In case the IAF selects Airbus MRTT for both the orders then this the issue of having too many platforms in the inventory will be resolved.