New Delhi: India and Russia are inching towards another mega defence deal, even as their bilateral talks for New Delhi buying four Moscow-built stealth frigates for $4 billion gained momentum.
The high-level India-Russia Military Technical Cooperation Working Group began its talks here from yesterday when Moscow submitted “a techno-commercial proposal” for the four multi-purpose frigates packed with sensors and weapons, including the BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles, the Times of India reported today.
An unidentified source was quoted in the report as saying that the proposal involved building two of the warships in Russia, while the other two would be constructed in India. The Indian Ministry of Defence has sought clarifications on the proposals before taking a call on the price and the government-to-government deal.
The working group also discussed other pending mega defence projects like the joint development of the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) and Kamov Ka-226T light utility helicopters. as well as the Rs 39,000 crore purchase of five S-400 Triumf advanced air defence missile systems, the report said.
The frigates deal has now been dovetailed to India’s aspiration to lease a second nuclear-powered submarine from Russia for $1.5 billion. This offer was said to be made by President Vladimir Putin to Prime Minister Narendra Modi a year ago.
The offer sounded like yesterday once more between India and Russia, as the latter had linked the leasing of the Akula-II nuclear-powered submarine by India for $900 million in April 2012 to the purchase of the bigger $2.33-billion contract for the then Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier, rechristened and inducted in the Indian Navy as INS Vikramaditya.
If the deal for the four new 4,000-tonne frigates is indeed inked, they will add to the six Russian stealth frigates already inducted by India. The first three Talwar-class frigates were inducted from Russia between 2003 and 2004, while the last three Teg-class were inducted between 2011 and 2013 for whicih contract was signed in 2006 for $1.15 billion.
The report said India is quite satisfied with the Teg-class frigates, which have an operating range of 4,500 nautical miles and can handle threats in all three dimensions – air, surface and underwater.
But a major problem with the new upgraded Teg or Grigorivich-class frigates on offer is that the warships – lying half-constructed at the Yantar Shipyard in Russia due to a cash-crunch – will need Zorya gas-turbine engines from Ukraine.
“Ukraine has refused to supply power plants to Russia because of their continuing bilateral problems. But India can directly acquire the engines from Ukraine,” TOI quoted an unidentified source as saying.
India, of course, has begun to construct its own stealth warships, having inducted three 6,100-tonne Shivalik-class frigates. Another Rs 50,000 crore contract for construction of the seven ‘Project-17A‘ stealth frigates – four at Mazagon Docks at Mumbai and three in GRSE at Kolkata – was inked in February 2015.
The Indian Navy currently has around 130 warships as well as 235 aircraft and helicopters. Moreover, the seven P-17A frigates are among the 39 warships and six Scorpene submarines under construction in Indian shipyards for over Rs.300,000 crore.
But India is now eyeing the Russian frigates since it plans a 212-warship Navy by 2027 to ensure effective safeguarding of its huge geostrategic interests from Persian Gulf to Malacca Strait and beyond.