Defence minister Arun Jaitley to lead military delegation to Russia


Defence minister Arun Jaitley to lead military delegation to Russia

NEW DELHI: Defence minister Arun Jaitley will be leading a high-powered military delegation to Novosibirsk and Moscow this week, at a time when Russia is desperate to wrest back from the US its long-standing numero uno position in the lucrative Indian arms market.

Jaitley is slated to hold wide-ranging discussions with the Russian deputy PM Dmitry Rogozin and defence minister General Sergey Shoygu during the first India-Russia science technology commission and the 17th inter-governmental commission on military-technical cooperation during his visit from June 20 to 23.

It comes just before PM Narendra Modi travels to the US on June 25-26 for his first meeting with President Donald Trump.

Though India has increasingly turned to the US for mega arms deals in recent years, Russia can take solace from the fact that defence projects worth around $10.5 billion are now on the verge of being finalised with it.

These range from the acquisition of five S-400 Triumfadvanced air defence missile systems, four Grigorivich-class frigates and 200 Kamov-226T light helicopters as well as the lease of a second nuclear-powered submarine after INS Chakra.

But India is yet to be convinced about the economic and technical viability of going in for the multi-billion dollar joint development and production of a fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) called the Sukhoi T-50 or PAK-FA with Russia.

As reported by TOI earlier, India will ink the long-pending final R&D contract for the FGFA — it will require an estimated $25 billion to induct 127 such single-seat jets — only if there is extensive transfer of technology and "benefits" for the indigenous plan develop its own advanced medium combat aircraft (AMCA). "The cost-benefit analysis is still under way," said a source.

But the news is much better on other fronts. With the joint venture on the $1 billion project to manufacture 200 Russian Kamov Ka-226T light utility helicopters in India finally firming up, sources said the RFP (request for proposal) for the project will be issued soon. "The JV will then submit its techno-commercial proposal," said a source.

Similarly, negotiations on the $5.5 billion acquisition of five S-400 Triumf systems, which can destroy hostile aircraft, stealth fighters, missiles and drones at ranges up to 400-km, are now in the final stages.

"The deal should be finalized within this year. Three of the S-400 systems are meant for the west (read Pakistan) and two for the east (China) to plug gaps in our air defence coverage," said the source.

India, of course, is also on course to acquire the second nuclear-powered submarine on lease from Russia.

Indian Navy had inducted the first Akula-II submarine, christened INS Chakra, on a 10-year lease from Russia in April 2012, under a secret $900 million deal inked way back in January 2004.

Jaitley is being accompanied by defence secretary Sanjay Mitra, defence production secretary A K Gupta, DRDO chief S Christopher, BrahMos chief Sudhir Mishra as well as top military officials like Lt-Gen S K Patyal, Air Marshal R Nambiar and Vice Admiral G SPabby, among others.

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