For the Indians, Russia has been the strongest and most important defense partner, with strong ties dating back to the Soviet era.

New Delhi has ordered a large number of Russian tanks, but at the same time expressed dissatisfaction. Was India on its way to abandoning Russian weapons, or for some other reason?

An agreement was signed in New Delhi in early November 2020. Accordingly, the Ministry of Defense of India will spend 3.12 billion dollars, to buy 464 T-90MS tanks from Russia within four years. One third of this amount will be paid to Russia for the transfer of technology and spare parts; the remainder will be paid to Indian companies.

Under the agreement, up to 80% of the components for the T-90MS main battle tank will be produced in India, but the main components of the engine and powertrain will be imported directly from Russia. However, these components account for up to 45% of the tank’s cost.

India’s change in foreign policy also affects all areas of military technical cooperation with Russia, especially in the field of aircraft procurement. India has withdrawn from the joint project to build the fifth generation Su-57 fighter, saying it is not a fifth generation fighter.

According to Indian air force officials, the Su-57 was too expensive, poorly engineered and powered by old and unreliable engines. The AL-41F engines fitted to the Su-57 were unreliable. The radar was inadequate. The airframe was poorly built, with serious implications for the jet’s stealth profile. And in light of these defects, $6 billion was too much to pay up front.

There are speculations that India’s complaints may be somewhat politically motivated, as New Delhi is also planning to buy 126 new Rafale fighters from France for a total of $18 billion. The removal of the Su-57 helped India buy French jets.

But in the tank sector, India has nowhere to turn to. Because the Indian Ministry of Defense has no choice but to buy Russian equipment. This is not only due to price, quality, but also preferential policy, technology transfer from Russia to India.

Just by looking at the numbers, we can see how big India’s dependence on Russian tanks is: 2000 Ajeya tanks (the localized version of the T-72 of the Soviet Union); and 1,500 Russian T-90S tanks. Meanwhile, only 240 Arjun tanks are developed and produced by India.

For Arjun tanks, it was an attempt by the Indian defense industry to create its own tank, in order to no longer depend on foreign countries. However, Arjun was not completely successful, as it was with the Indian Tejar light fighter.

Indian Arjun tanks started to be built in 1974, with an expected production number of 2,000 units and tactical performance not inferior to the Soviet T-72. But Arjun was designed and tested for more than … 30 years. New mass production version started in 2006.

There is speculation that it is possible that the quality of the T-90 Bhishma tanks domestically produced by India under Russian license is not up to the standard.

Besides, it is not excluded that this is just a “price suppressing” tactic of India, because this South Asian country is preparing to receive the production line of the upgraded T-90MS version.


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