Antony to reach Russia on Friday, focus on nuclear submarine, FGFA

Defence Minister AK Antony will be in Russia on Friday on a crucial four-day official visit during which he will co-chair the 13th meeting of the India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission on Military Technical Cooperation (IRIGC-MTC) with his Russian counterpart Sergey Shoigu and will commission the INS Vikramaditya, an aircraft carrier formerly known as Admiral Gorshkov.

Besides these two events, two more issues are likely to dominate Antony’s engagements with his Russian interlocutors: the lease of second nuclear submarine from Russia to India and the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft, sources familiar with the dynamics of Indo-Russian defence ties told this writer.

 Antony to reach Russia on Friday, focus on nuclear submarine, FGFA

INS Vikramaditya. Reuters

Second nuclear submarine

The issue of India taking on lease from Russia a second nuclear submarine is likely to come up for some intense discussions during Antony’s visit.

Indian officials are tight-lipped about the second nuclear submarine lease. However, knowledgeable sources have indicated that the boat would be available to India for a period of ten years at a price tag of $1.2 billion, a figure which the Indians find on the higher side. India’s only nuclear submarine in service has also been taken on a 10-year lease from Russia at a total cost of slightly less than one billion dollars. It was inducted in the Indian Navy last year.

Things are expected to come into more transparent domains in the Indian decision-making process on this issue depending upon Antony’s negotiations with the Russians. If the talks on this count are successful, the lease of the second nuclear submarine will come up for approval of India’s two top bodies – the Defence Acquisition Council, chaired by the defence minister, and the Cabinet Committee on Security, chaired by the prime minister.

Sources also said if the negotiations were to be wrapped up, India would like to go for construction of a new submarine, rather than buying one off-the-shelf.

Also, India would like to equip the new nuclear submarine with BrahMos supersonic cruise missile which has a range of 290 kilometers.

If all goes well, India would finance the construction of the new submarine in Russia. For Russia’s part, Russia will handle maintenance and overhauls.

Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft

During this visit, Antony is also likely to review with his Russian interlocutors the work-sharing agreement on the joint Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) project. India is unhappy at the current work share which is presently below 20 percent. India wants to increase its work share to 50 percent as India is financing 50 percent of the project.

Sources said the Russians were likely to accede to Indian demand.

The FGFA project promises to be the single biggest joint defence programme in the coming years. If the negotiations are sealed as per India’s plans, India would be spending around $ 35 billion on the advanced stealth fighters project over the next two decades for inducting 250-300 of the planes from 2020 onwards.

As of now, India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd and Russia’s Sukhoi Design Bureau are yet to sign a final contract for jointly developing the FGFA. The two sides have so far only signed the $295 million preliminary design contract.

The negotiations are highly complex and technical and sources indicated that it might take at least one more year to sign the $11 billion "full design R&D contract" for the futuristic fighter, Indian Air Chief NAK Browne went on record as saying on Air Force Day.

India has some major concerns on the FGFA project and these were articulated thus by IAF Deputy Chief Air Marshal S Sukumar at a recent CII event on energizing aerospace sector in India: "We have a major opportunity in the FGFA programme. At the moment it is not very much in favour of Indian development. We are flagging it through the government. It should be much more focused towards indigenous development capability."

Vikramaditya and IRIGC-MTC

The commissioning ceremony of INS Vikramaditya will take place at Sevmash Shipyard, Severodvinsk on 16 November, while the IRIGC-MTC meeting will take place in Moscow on 18 November, Sitanshu Kar, chief spokesman of the Indian defence ministry said.

Sitanshu Kar said Antony will be accompanied by high level delegations for both the events. The Chief of Naval Staff Admiral DK Joshi and defence secretary RK Mathur will be among those present at the commissioning of INS Vikramaditya. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin and Defence Minister Shoigu will also be there to witness the landmark event.

Besides, sources said there are a host of Indian concerns that are yet to be sorted out in the ongoing joint Indo-Russian programmes, such as Russian delivery schedules, mid-way increase in costs, supply of spares and smooth technology transfer.

Antony’s delegation to the IRIGC-MTC will include Mathur, Defence Production Secretary GC Pati, Director General Acquisition SB Agnihotri and senior officers of the armed forces.

At the IRIGC-MTC meeting a broad spectrum of issues related to on-going and proposed defence projects and defence cooperation between the two countries will be discussed, Kar said in a press note. The two sides will also exchange views on regional and global issues of concern to both the countries.

IRIGC-MTC was established in 2000 with a view to strengthen defence cooperation between the two countries. Since then it has been meeting annually, alternately in India and Russia, at the level of the Defence Ministers of the two countries, to review and discuss matters relating to bilateral defence cooperation between the two countries.

Originally, Antony’s Russia visit was to take place last month just before Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Moscow for the 14th annual Indo-Russian summit. However, it had to be postponed for two reasons: Antony’s health-related issues and also because the two sides saw no point in Antony visiting Russia twice within a month or so as he was to be in Russia anyway in November for commissioning the INS Vikramaditya.

The writer is a FirstPost columnist and a strategic analyst who tweets @Kishkindha.

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Updated Date: Nov 14, 2013 19:40:00 IST