One of the major takeaways from Russian President Vladimir Putin's 23-hour visit to New Delhi, was Moscow's keenness to locate a manufacturing facility in India to produce as well as export up to 400 Mi-17 medium lift and Kamov Ka-226 light utility helicopters or LUH in India every year.
This is a major boost, from an old, trusted partner, for the defence sector's ambitious 'Make in India' project, unveiled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi some months ago.
The Ka-226 had competed in the Indian military's global LUH tender before the Indian Defence Ministry cancelled the process and decided to source the helicopters-- like many other military equipment - through the 'Make in India' project.
India and Russia have already jointly developed and manufactured the Brahmos, one of the world's most potent missiles, and more joint Indo-Russian ventures with facilities in India are expected to further boost the defence and economic relations between the two countries.
The proposed manufacturing facility, to be put up in collaboration with an Indian partner, will also aim at exporting helicopters to other countries. More significantly however, the decision to establish plants to manufacture spare parts for Russian-sourced arms and equipment used by Indian armed forces, will be welcomed by the three services.
Apart from generating jobs for the Indian workforce, these facilities will ensure that supply of critical spare parts for crucial equipment will be available within the country. From main battle tanks to combat jets and from ships to submarines, over 60 per cent of weapons and platforms across the three services in India are still of Soviet origin. But availability of spares and consequently quality of maintenance and servicing has been rather erratic of late leading to bitterness amongst old friends.
The inability of the original manufacturers from Russia to meet Indian requirements and the declining quality of service, had led to the Indian military to look for other military suppliers from the US, Israel and France.
In fact, of late the Russians, especially their veteran Ambassador to India, have been rather vociferous in criticising India's apparent tilt towards the West for importing defence equipment. Prime Minister Modi's statement after talks with the Russian President that, "We have a strategic partnership that is incomparable in content," must have come as music to Putin's ear's since Russia has been smarting under Western sanctions in the wake of the Ukraine episode. Moscow is actually looking for reassurances from new friends (China) and old allies (India).
Putin's Delhi visit would have been worth it only on that count alone.
Another statement by the Indian Prime Minister while referring to India diversifying its sources of procurement of defence hardware in recent years, would have pleased the Russian President. "Even if India's options have increased, Russia remains our most important defence partner," Mr Modi said.
There is still no clarity however how quickly India and Russia will be able to resolve their differences over the ambitious co-development and joint manufacturing of a fifth generation fighter aircraft. Although equally funded by New Delhi and Moscow, the project has not progressed to India's satisfaction yet.
These hiccups notwithstanding, India's ambitious 'Make in India' campaign would certainly gain momentum if the Russians deliver on their promise.
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