The story about a team from Reliance hotfooting it to Moscow seeking transfer of technology for nuclear-powered submarines was startling both in its direct “go get” attitude and its naivete. The Soviet Union has been dead awhile, but the closed system characteristics continue, and it is not easy to breach the Kremlin wall, leave alone generate instant trust on the back of promises of vast commercial profit. The Reliance team headed by a former Wing Commander, IAF, Rajesh (not Rajiv) Dhingra, formerly chief of the Exhibitions Wing of Ministry of Defence (not DRDO as originally stated by me) and later MD, Lockheed India, predictably, didn’t get very far beyond the intrigued middle rungs of the Vladimir Putin government. According to persons in the know, Reliance’s desire to meet with with the representatives of the St Petersburg (Leningrad)-based Rubin warship design bureau and the Malachite submarine design bureau, was deflected with small talk and exploration by Russian officials plumbing the Dhingra cohorts’intent. To the Russians Reliance’s initiative reeked of grand ambition, even greater chutzpah alright, but absolutely amateurish follow-through, considering the absence of even one technically proficient, Russian speaking, person in its team. So the Indian pvt sector chaps cooled their heels in Moscow, enjoyed the sights, and till last reports, were denied even a photo-op with the Russian defence minister Sergey Shoygu. Reliance should have known that India’s dealings on N-subs with Russia have always been at the G2G levels where secrecy, etc.were backed by sovereign guarantees. Not sure how Reliance hoped to climb that hill (assuming they were even aware of it).
Russians essentially assessed the Reliance inquiry as non-serious because the Ambani company has not built up any R&D facilities to absorb complex technologies and showed impatience which undermines the possibility of seeding trust — the most important ingredient Russians value in high-tech collaborations. The prototype relationship Moscow values is the one consolidated over the years with Larsen & Toubro, which has constructed many installations, including an up-todate virtual submarine design facility in Mumbai, and has nursed a Russian-speaking cadre of engineers.
But unwilling to jettison all commercial possibilities at a time when the Modi govt is increasingly turning to the pvt sector for defence manufacturing, the Putin government fobbed off Dhingra and the rest of the Reliance Gang with talk of possible collaboration in building frigates at the Pipavav shipyard Reliance has bought into (with an 18% share). It would be interesting to see where this goes, how far Russians want to go with this, and where Reliance takes it.