Russia has won a $1.5-billion military contract to supply India with the 9K388 Igla-S man-portable air-defense system (MANPADS). The Indian Army will soon be operating over 5,000 of them, with 600 produced domestically, in keeping with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Made in India” program. The European companies SAAB and MBDA also took part in the tender. The deal is expected to be signed at the next meeting of the Indian-Russian Intergovernmental Commission on Military-Technical cooperation, which will take place in the Russian capital.
The export version of the Igla-S with fire-and-forget capability that will be shipped to India can hit targets at a maximum range of 6 km and at an altitude of 3.5 km. The jamming-resistant, all-weather weapon boasts a hit probability of 0.8–0.9. Of the 5,175 missiles and associated equipment sought under the very short-range air defense (VSHORAD) program, 2,315 missiles are to be purchased fully assembled, 1,260 missiles in semi knocked-down form, 1,000 missiles in completely knocked-down form, and another 600 missiles that will be manufactured by the state-owned Bharat Dynamics Ltd. The VSHORAD will be employed in varied terrains and installed on light utility vehicles and ships.
In Russia, the legendary Igla-S is being replaced by the new, interference-immune Verba MANPADS. The system has a heat-seeking, multispectral, optical heating-seeking head (GOS) able to distinguish a locked-on target from decoys and dummies. The all-weather, day-and-night operational MANPADS can hit targets at ranges of 0.5 to 6.5 km and at altitudes of 10 m to 4.5 km. They boast a speed of 500 m per second and can hit approaching targets traveling at 400 m per second or 320 m per second when shooting in pursuit. Eight maneuvering targets can be engaged simultaneously. A high-explosive, 1.5kg fragmentation warhead increases the probability of kill. Compared to the Igla-S, the Verba enjoys an engagement envelope that is 150% larger, plus ten times the protection from high-power flares. India, Algeria, and Egypt are included on the list of potential buyers. The Igla-S and Verba offer proof that Russia is the global leader in portable MANPADS technology. It’s no wonder it won the Indian tender.
In October, Moscow and New Delhi signed a $5.2 billion deal to purchase the Russian-made S-400 Triumf air-defense system. Over a dozen nations have expressed interest in buying the Triumf, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Morocco, Egypt, Vietnam, and Iraq. China is one of the latest recipients and Turkey has already signed a contract. Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tried to talk India out of the S-400 deal during the 2+2 talks. That didn’t fly.
Also in October, India signed a $950-million deal to purchase two Admiral Grigorovich-class (Project 11356) stealth frigates from Russia. Negotiations over price and transfer of technology are underway for two more ships of this class that will be built in the Goa Shipyard. The warships will be outfitted with the BrahMos supersonic cruise-missile system, a joint project between Russia and India. The production of Russian Ка-226 helicopters is also on their agenda. About 60% of the defense equipment used by the Indian defense forces is of Russian origin. The Russian weapons and equipment in India’s inventory must be either maintained with purchased spare parts or modernized with Russia’s help. The Indian army badly needs light tanks that can be used in mountainous terrain. Russia can offer its 2S25 Sprut-SD self-propelled tank destroyer, which is classed as a light tank and can operate in the mountains.
Defying the US sanctions, all these deals further strengthen their “Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership,” making India Russia’s leading partner in military cooperation. It has been announced that payments under the S-400 deal will be made in the national currencies, not US dollars. The countries might use the Singapore dollar or the currency of some other third country for their transactions. More defense deals will be announced when the Russian and Indian leaders meet in November 2018 on the sidelines of the G20 in Argentina (Nov. 30-Dec. 1).
Promising new avenues exist for bilateral cooperation that go beyond arms deals. During President Vladimir Putin’s latest visit to New Delhi in October, both sides pledged to cooperate on oil and gas projects in Russia, including on Russia’s Arctic shelf and the shores of the Pechora and Okhotsk seas. Their bilateral energy deals are already worth $23 billion. India is expected to make substantial investments in Arctic and other energy holdings. Last summer a large Indian delegation visited Russia’s Far East to study the potential for economic projects there. India and Russia can augment their economic partnership through the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA). Those two partners can also discuss issues of mutual interest within the framework of groups like RIC (Russia-India-China) and BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa), as well as SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization), without pressure from the West, which cannot change the fact that Russia remains India’s long-standing strategic partner pursuing the shared goal of encouraging a multipolar world. Those countries have an almost 60-year history of military cooperation that ensures that Russia will be an indispensable supplier of defense equipment and weaponry for the foreseeable future.