TechIndia's defense pivot: Ditching Russia for NATO and US suppliers amid Ukraine crisis

India's defense pivot: Ditching Russia for NATO and US suppliers amid Ukraine crisis

Pinaka rocket launcher during a parade in India
Pinaka rocket launcher during a parade in India
Images source: © Wikipedia
5:35 AM EST, January 29, 2024

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates that, over the past two decades, Russia has been responsible for supplying around 65% of the weapons purchased by the Indian military. The total value of contracts during this period could have reached up to 60 billion dollars. Though clues of Delhi's intention to diversify may have surfaced a few years ago, the Ukraine conflict has been a major catalyst for them to diversify weapons procurement.

India seeks to end military contracts with Russia

"As the conflict in Ukraine lingers on, concern mounts as to whether Russia will be able to keep up with the supply of spare parts. This fuels the urge to diversify," expressed Swasti Rao, a Eurasian expert at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses.

The world's largest weapons importer is gradually turning Westward. Over the next decade, India may spend up to 100 billion dollars on additional military equipment orders. A substantial chunk of this amount could be directed to NATO countries. A contract for French Rafale aircraft, due to replace Russian MiGs 29, has already been signed. Submarine construction will be a joint venture with Germany, but the United States might be the biggest beneficiary.

In December 2023 there were indications that Washington is prepared to offer Stryker carriers, including the latest Stryker M-SHORAD, which could be produced in India to strengthen its army. This would be a first - the initial licensed production of this vehicle outside the U.S. The Stryker M-SHORAD is fitted with a variety of arms, including a 30 mm automatic cannon, a FIM-92 Stinger missile container, and a pair of guided AGM-114L Longbow Hellfire anti-tank missiles. It is capable of defending against enemy armored vehicles, including tanks.

This would not be the first contract finalized with Washington. India has been systematically receiving, among other things, American P-8 Poseidon patrol aircraft. They are set to acquire 18 such machines to replace the Soviet Il-38SDs.

Total severance of ties with Russia by India isn't feasible

Nonetheless, India must maintain a delicate balance in its relations with Russia. While they seek to move away and focus Western, they need to avoid any actions that might lead to strengthened ties between Moscow and Beijing. Moreover, India shares crucial economic agreements with Russia - including those in the energy sector - and approximately 60% of its arsenal still features Soviet and Russian weapons. Spare parts, primarily produced in Russia, will remain necessary for at least two more decades.

"It's unlikely we will enter any larger military agreement with Russia. That would cross a line for Washington," asserted Nandan Unnikrishnan, a Russia specialist at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi.

One possible solution may lie in India producing its own weapons, thereby avoiding large contracts with any foreign powers. This trend is gaining momentum. Presently, India is developing light Sprut SDM1 tanks equipped with 125 mm guns, and has announced plans to create its own long-range anti-aircraft missile system, with capabilities comparable to the Russian S-400.

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