In Vladivostok, in a clinch or for convenience?

Image result for pics of putin and modi

[uh-oh! Putin to Modi!]

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will soon be in Vladivostok, there to attend an Economic Conference as chief guest. That the Russian President Vladimir Putin is hosting the Indian leader for a second such summit — the last time was in the former’s stomping ground, St. Petersburg, suggests that despite the Modi regime signaling Delhi’s closeness to the US at every turn, Moscow still espies some utility in having India figure prominently in its great power political game. And, of course, to have the Russian defence industry continue to benefit from such major arms sales as may fructify.

After all, Putin has been spectacularly successful, even though playing with a weak economic card, to push America geopolitically into a corner. He has stymied the US in the Middle East by simultaneously drawing Erdogan’s Turkey into its military sphere of influence with the foot-in-the-door sale of S-400 anti-aircraft system and propping up the Bashir al-Assad government in Syria, and thereby established itself as a seminal power in greater West Asia. Capitalizing on the estranged relations between West European members of NATO and Washington that the maladroit US President Donald Trump has managed to obtain, and his own threats to cutoff gas supplies to Germany, the strongest European state, Putin has ensured that NATO is about neutered. In Central Asia, lacking China’s economic ability to buy regimes with infrastructure projects and trade on concessional terms, he has sought a negotiated solution with Japan for the return of the Kurile Island chain to Tokyo, whence the certainty that Japan will be strung along. It will increase the degrees of separation between the US and Japan, on the one hand and, by cultivating Tokyo, put China on a strategic leash, on the other hand. Keeping things humming with India fits into this larger plan because, besides an Indo-Russian check on Chinese ambitions in the extended region, it at least notionally pulls Delhi away from Washington — a move aided and principally assisted by the Trump Administration’s almost pathological drive to alienate its allies and partners everywhere, including particularly in Asia.

Does Modi have any grand plan and strategy to rival that of the master Russian strategist gladhanding him in the Russian Far East? Apparently not (if one goes by his floundering and fairly unimaginative, non-Article 370 abrogation-related, foreign policy and the leanings of his reported foreign policy adviser, the RSS apparatchik Ram Madhav. Madhav’s level of intellect can be gleaned from his revealing op-ed quoting Francis Fukuyama, who became irrelevant over a decade ago. This is in line with ample past evidence that Madhav has a basic incapacity to do other than think derivatively. But this can also be said about such “thinking” as is being done by Ministry of External Affairs led by S Jaishankar. Picking up on the “Please the Master”-game fast, Jaishankar, for instance, had scheduled the annual heads-of-missions meeting, where else, at a Gujarat government resort at the feet of the gigantic Vallabhbhai Patel statue on the Narmada — a ploy designed mightily to please his boss. Shades of US Vice President Michael Pence, on a state visit to Ireland, to please Trump staying at a Trump-owned golf resort in Doonbeg on the west coast of that country, some 180 miles from Dublin, on the opposite, eastern shore, where he pow-wowed with the Irish Prime Minister — the gay, half-Indian, Leo Varadkar).

So, no great strategic game plan here. Consider that Defence minister Rajnath Singh had a meeting with his Japanese counterpart in Tokyo and did not once mention the Shinmaywa US-2 maritime recon aircraft project the Shinzo Abe government many years ago offered India on a platter, prospectively even with financing! And Modi has been talking — yea, just talking — about ‘acting East’ from when he became prime minister 5 years ago. But why would Modi need a game plan when he can brandish promises to buy this and that pricey armament instead — a ploy he has time and again used with Trump, Macron, May and every other leader whose country has any kind of weaponry (and, in the case of Xi of China, Huawei 5G telecom systems that will implant Chinese spy and cyberwarfare wherewithal controlled by Beijing in the Indian communications grid) to sell? The fact that the Indian economy is running on empty has not deterred him, nor prompted him to rethink his policy of seeking to buy friendship with mega arms purchases. But then he doesn’t seem to have a better idea by way of leverage. Nor has Beijing’s hand-holding of Pakistan on the Kashmir issue (in the UN Security Council and elsewhere) elicited anything remotely punitive. Like say, censorious statements by MEA to chastise China for suspending civil rights and imposing an emergency in Hong Kong — the very thing Beijing accuses Delhi of doing in Srinagar Valley!

So Modi has gone to Vladivostok — a veritable Santa Claus bearing gifts — touting his proximity to his “good friend” Vladimir. He means to sign, per press reports, an accord to set up an “energy bridge” for Sakhalin oil to make up for the loss of oil from Iran, but also multi-billion dollar contracts for the AK-203 assault rifle production in India, the Kamov 226 utility helicopters, and the lease agreement for the second Akula-II nuclear-powered attack submarine.

As it is, the US Defence Department is weighed down by a lemon of an aircraft in US armed services’ inventories, the F-35! But Modi will not touch the one weapons platform that will make mincemeat of this plane and is sending shivers down Pentagon’s spine — the Kinzhal hypersonic missile-armed high-performance, 5th generation, Sukhoi-57. It is another matter that Moscow had long ago offered to co-develop this advanced fighter-bomber aircraft with India, which project the IAF, in its by now legendary wisdom shied away from, because it preferred the 4.5 gen French Rafale — the same generation combat aircraft, incidentally, as the indigenous Tejas LCA and, because Modi will feel the need to balance these Russian arms buys and to please Trump, the already 50+year old F-16!!! And this because the PM believes that producing or, more correctly, assembling, the F-16 in India will somehow add value to this plane and elevate it to the league of what — the Tejas, Su-57, Rafale, or the junky F-35? And all this at the expense of the Indian defence industry (Tejas), and relations with Russia (Su-57) and Japan (US-2) — the US-2 being the best aircraft of its kind in the world!

Way to go Modi, Indian government, and Indian military! Foreign defence industries have certainly hit a jackpot with you!

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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26 Responses to In Vladivostok, in a clinch or for convenience?

  1. vivek says:

    so f16 is final as per your comments??

  2. Rupam says:

    Su-57 is 5th generation not 6th.

    One major problem with most companies in core industries in India I see is that on the onset they did not invest in developing in-house R&D capabilities be it in Defense or Automobile which is another sector where domestic players are facing stiff competition from Japanese and Western companies.

    And those who painstakingly do invest in developing expertise and facilities they are not rewarded with contracts and ability to export products to bring in Economies of scale.

    Don’t know when, in which decade we will get a leadership that does what is needed to be done, rather than playing second fiddle to other countries and dumping India’s national interests.

    • Thanks, 5th gen snafu corrected in text.

      • Rupam says:

        Bharat Karnad ji do u think since the deal with Safran and Snecma did not go through for the Kaveri engine. Would it not be good to ink a deal with Saturn to get expertise, know-how and know-why for the Kaveri project rather than anything else?

      • Th financial support was pulled away from Kaveri just as it bench-tested (static) at 79 kiloNewtons. This for the most technologically challenging programme DRDO has ever undertaken. SNECMA negotiations were a ruse by France to string India along — see my Why India is not a great Power (Yet). A DRDO-pvt sector combine would easily do this w/o any foreign help from any quarter.

      • Unicorn says:

        Id argue the jet engine should have been done by a more dedicated organization like NAL. As you rightly said, given its complexity it cannot be a small subproject of DRDO. Rather it has to be a centrepiece mandate of a more focussed research organization.

  3. andy says:

    There is no logistics sharing agreement between Russia and India,nor any major energy deal finalized from Vladivostok. The SU 57 probably has no backers in the IAF ,so no discussion on that count. All we’re hearing is platitudes,no concrete outcomes.
    Even the long drawn Kamov choppers deal doesn’t seem to have gone through.

    Seems like the west,namely the British and American are squeezing us vis a vis the clampdown in Kashmir. Though Kashmir is recognized as India’s internal matter by both ,the clampdown leads to human rights abuse,which is very much an international subject in their official statements. So no cozying up between Russia and India for starters.

    Basically both western powers are considering the Kashmir situation as Indias ‘achilles heel’ and using the human rights issue to squeeze and make India behave itself. They will milk this issue to make India fall in line with their global strategy.

    The US clearly wants a trade deal with India on better terms and also to sell some big ticket defense kit,including but not limited to the ancient F16 fighter jet.

    Expecting an Indo- US trade deal to come through soon enough, as also major defense and energy deals . In fact India will hold an energy conference in,of all places, Houston in the near future

    The squeeze is on.

  4. Indian says:

    Dear Bharat,
    Most of your strategic comments are spot on. Not sure why the dim bulbs in New Delhi do not muster the courage to return the favor to China vis-a-vis Hong Kong that they bluntly do vis-a-vis Pak/Kashmir. Syrians and Venezuela who have everything to lose actually standup to the United States and for whatever “unknown” reason on earth, our leaders never raise their voice against the Chinese. The trade balance is altogether another sphere which India never addresses against China. UK is also becoming another “liberal” state and they should be put in their place. UK holds nothing to India in today’s geopolitics. They are a lost concern (other than a seat at UN).
    Being an Aviation Student, I disagree on your analysis reg: F16/Rafale. Here is my take on them
    F16 – a good fighter and has the lion’s share in US inventory. In any war scenario, these will be doing the donkey’s work. Having said that, they are bad for India as our adversary has them and would be too much of diverse hardware in IAF inventory. (also they work well in a network oriented setup)
    Rafale – Wonderful aircraft for it is built to do. Has the most payload capacity in its category and the serviceability is also very good. Only drawback here is the steep cost and potential non-integration of Indian hardware. Only 36 aircraft means that they are too valuable in a limited case scenario. This can go against any aircraft (except the F35/F22 from the US)
    SU57 – The hardware is fantastic, but, their software/sensors ever meet the claims.
    F35: Stealth fighter intended to go after targets that wont fight back (Middle east scenario where fight is one way). The idea is that they will go in without detection and destroy enemy’s radars and the other aircraft will take over. It is never going to be up against SU57 or even a Mig 25/Sukhoi 30.
    There is a reason US has F22 and will not give it even to its staunch allies until they are able to come up with something new. As of today, it can take on any fighter. India should not be getting F35 as it’s needs are different.

    Japan is looking at selling 100 F15 planes that it has. Not sure why India is not thinking about them (considering japan sells them at cheap price). F15 is a good fighter and can be modified to be used on our carriers as well.
    If everything can be worked out, this is what I think would be the test for IAF considering the state it is in
    Tejas – Build them in big numbers and advance AMCA (instead of delaying). Invest money in the damn engine and why cannot India buy out good engineers from Ukraine? They can build them
    Su 30 MKI – upgrade everything to Super Sukhoi and bring in 2-3 additional squadrons from Russia at a cheaper price
    Rafale – I know this does not make sense financially, but, we would need additional 36 (since we got 36 already)
    F15 – See if Japan can sell them at throw away prices.
    Transport/Refueler Aircraft – As above, get some Ukrainan help and build your own transport aircraft.

  5. john doe says:

    The SU-57 is nowhere near production and until it can solve its engines issue, it’s nowhere close to being stealthy.

    The US-2 is a Search-and-Rescue plane with zero abilities in ASW and battle management. The P-8 can deliver torpedoes. At best, the US-2 can water bomb a fire, like that’s going to be effective against a sub.

    • You hugely underestimate US-2’s utility for island defence, medium haul for Special Forces, etc.
      And, in any case, given our maritime territories, US-2 and P-8i are not mutually exclusive needs.

      • john doe says:

        With respect, island defence and medium haul can be done by utility/lift helo which we have 200+
        Also US-2 cannot do battle management. P-8i can co-ordinate with SSK and destroyer screens.
        I’m not aware of Japanese ever offering US-2 for a military role. They don’t have one. SAR yes and that is all they offered us.

      • Please refer to an earlier response re: US-2 and P-8i not being mutually exclusive requirements. Further, the country’s vast and spread out island territories and EEZ cannot be covered by IN helos.

  6. andy says:

    Bit off topic ,but hugely relevant nonetheless. Here’s a few things IAF can do to to have adequate number of aircraft by 2027.

    Best thing for IAF would be to order 54nos (3 squadrons) of additional SU30 MKI in Super Sukhoi configuration and upgrade the existing fleet to the same, for a total of 18 Super Sukhoi squadrons. At the current production rate of 12 per annum,all additional Su30 should be flying by 2027.

    This is more economical than another greenfield project to manufacture a totally different class of aircraft because of the existing infrastructure and suppliers ecosystem for SU30 production in India. Also reduces the maintenance and logistical nightmare a completely different aircraft induction entails.

    Let the SU57 mature for another 5years,by then the Russians should have sorted out the engine issues as well as honed the stealth technology to the next level. Get 2 squadrons of SU57 post 2024,see how the platform works with line pilots, then take a call on augmented numbers.

    Though one would prefer just 3 types of fighters in the IAF inventory namely Super Sukhoi,Tejas and SU57 to reduce maintenance nightmares ,the Rafale gets a lookin only due to the fact that 36 are already on order . Get another 36 Rafale. The price of the second lot could be about $5 to $5.5 billions by some estimates. Cost comes down from $8.7 billions for the first 36 ,since no further expenses are incurred for India specific enhancements or basing infrastructure that’s adequate for 4 squadrons. The cost of the entire fleet of 72 Rafale comes down by around 20%.

    The price negotiations of Tejas Mark 1A are complete and the cost for each has been brought down to reasonable levels of Rs 417 crores apiece ($ 58 million)for making 83nos, from the initial HAL estimates of Rs.463 crores each. This is way cheaper than the comparable Gripen E ,with AESA fire control radar, which goes for about $85 millions a piece albeit with a highter capacity engine. The Tejas Mark 1A price goes down if more are ordered as R and D plus infrastructure cost gets divided over more numbers.

    Soon 83 nos Tejas will be on order to make a total of 123 (83Mark 1A,20 IOC and 20 FOC). The IAf wont find a better low cost aircraft for point defense and close air support, so it makes a lot of sense to have at least 180(10 squadrons) of Tejas in the Mark 1A configuration. Ramping up the production lines should see all10 squadrons in IAF colors by 2027. With concrete orders HAL should be able to deliver. Still better would be transfer of technologies to a worthy private sector partner to start additional lines.

    Currently the IAF flies 66 MIG29 UPG, 48 Mirage2000 and 117 Jaguar fighters in addition to SU30, Tejas and MIG21.

    The Jaguar upgrade involving replacement of the Rolls Royce Adour with Honeywell 125IN engines has been shelved ,so the oldest iterations start retiring as early as 2023. Would be better to scrap the entire fleet by 2027 since the old engines are losing thrust as of today,which should get progressively worse by 2027. Also finding spares for an aircraft that’s out of production and phased out by all other airforces around the world is a tough ask. Already IAF is reduced to scrounging around Jaguar junkyards for spares ,which is a sorry state of affairs.

    Of the current fleet ,only 66 MIG29,
    plus the 21 unused airframes to be bought from Russia for a total of 87 MiG 29 and the 48 upgraded Mirage 2000 make it past 2027. Thats roughly 8.5 squadrons of medium weight fighters.

    So by 2027 we have,
    18 Su30
    2 SU57
    10 Tejas
    4 Rafale
    And 8.5 squadrons of Mig 29 and M2k fighter jets .

    Thus making a total of 42.5 Squadrons for the IAF. This is the optimum strength they want for a two front war scenario.

    By 2027 the Tejas Medium Weight Fighter (MWF)should be on track to start a serial production run of at least 201nos, with the AMCA to be combat ready by 2035. The MIG29 and M2k fleet are slated for replacing post 2035.

    Problem is wether India can resist US pressures and will the IAF opt for a fighter fleet that has so much indigenous content?

  7. Yea, a good air orbat and conforms with the force profile I have been advocating. Except in my view instead of Su-57 best to go in for squadron+ of Tu-160M Blackjack.

    • andy says:

      The Tu160 blackjack would be a game changer for sure. Would transform the IAF into a strategic force from a tactical one.

      • ‘But IAF’ll have nothing to do with the Blackjack! Reasons why explained, not at all so convincingly, by the then CAS, ACM “Charlie” Brown, in my Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)

  8. Rahul says:

    Mr. Karnard, How about we get some soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan with a well thought out exit strategy and in lieu extract top of the line defense tech from the US as in tech transfer, What do you think?

    • India won’t get US real hi-tech mil hardware-software for love, money, ideology, shared national interests (restraining China) and, least of all, for fighting its war in Afghanistan.

      • Unicorn says:

        Which is actually a blessing in disguise. The denatured imported tech (going by your own jargon) is like opium. It keeps you happy for a short term, but wrecks havoc in long term. My real hope is that progress India is making in Nuclear, Strategic Defense, Space (Strategic sectors) will spook the big powers into becoming very protective about their conventional tech.

        That will force India into developing home grown weapon systems, since we as reactive people by nature can only be forced into action(wish that was not true)

      • Conforms to my line of thought. Have argued in my past writings — refer Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet) — that the best thing for India would be if the West reimposed sanctions on all tech trade, the only way Delhi will be compelled to trust in indigenous weaponry — as happened with our strategic systems — nuclear weapons, the Agni family of missiles and the SSBN, and if the conventional armament design, development and production programmes were done in mission mode (as happened with the N-bombs, missiles-IGMP and ATV-SSBN).

      • Unicorn says:

        It will eventually happen. With 10 more years of solid achievements by ISRO in space (Manned spaceflight, Robotic mission to moon & back, Martian lander/rover …) and DRDO in strategic defense (Agni 6 MIRV, Tejas, Hypersonic scramjet, ASAT …) India will largely be in a “Quadrilateral Parity” with America, Russia & China.

        Japan fell out the race back in 1970s when they succumbed to NPT. Britain is incidental and under American tutelage, French are bit ahead [compared to English], but cannot ever match a massively resourceful India or China. Rest of em are moot points.

        I would like to hear your opinions on DRDOs chief’s comments on indigenization targets for next five years though?

      • Unicorn says:

        Oh and I forgot to add bottom line to my comments. With such strategic parity, these countries are bound to preserve asymmetry in conventional technology. So dont expect easy weapon imports!

  9. Rupam says:

    The aim of the govt. should be to get self sufficient in being able to produce conventional weapons systems in large numbers should a war open up in multiple fronts (most probably it will) and becomes a strategic and attrition war rather than a tactical one.

    That can only happen when domestic private sector is allowed to fully enter development and production and start projects as well and also export.

    • Unicorn says:

      It is misleading to think private sector is the silver bullet for all defense indigenization owes. Govt. still needs to weigh in. The kind of resources that are needed for cutting edge technology, only, “ONLY” govt. of India can muster.

      Where GOI is faltering, is in not giving up mammoth charity organizations, aka DPSUs: Ex: HAL. Just own research organizations like DRDO, ISRO, BARC (May be a new one for aeronautical engineering? IARO 🙂 )

      Then work out a modus operandi for tech transfer to private. PSLV privatization initiative is a golden lesson in this regard. Private equity will ensure no one is unproductive.

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