Sorry, Washington, India Can’t Be Scared Away From Russia

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Ahead of Vladimir Putin’s two-day visit to India, the Russian government confirmed that the president will oversee the signing of the $5 billion worth S-400 defence deal. The two countries had been discussing the purchase of the S-400 Triumf a mobile, surface-to-air missile system since 2015. The signing of the deal would once again reinforce ties between the two countries that dates back to the 1960s. The age old relationship of trust between the two countries had been cooling off lately, but is still sturdy when it comes to defence. Even though India’s trade with Russia is now much lower than with the US, when it comes to defence, majority of the country’s military equipment is still of Soviet or Russian origin and India still needs to look to Moscow for spares.

The military relationship between the two countries dates back to the 1960s when the world was almost neatly split into two as a result of cold war politics. As the Soviet Union broke down and the global order went from bipolar to multipolar, the defence relationship between India and Russia also evolved. In recent years, equipment from Russia is said to constitute 68 per cent of Indian defence exports.

Vladimir Putin is in India on Thursday, and defense contracts between the two countries are likely on the table. Despite the U.S. sanctions against Russian defense firms, India is unlikely to be scared away from the Russians by Washington’s strong-arming tactics. India prime minister Narendra Modi is his own man. His country is not dependent on the U.S., even as Lockheed Martin has a long-standing defense deal with the Tata Group to build the wings for the C-130 Hercules.

Modi is not going to diss Putin. And the U.S. defense industry doesn’t want to lose them to a political spat between Washington and Moscow.

India and Russia Defense Deals

Russia and India have long-standing defense relations. In fact, India has deeper ties to Russian military contractors than it does to Americans. However, Americans definitely view India as a country they do not want to lose. It is an important, trustworthy partner. As George Costanza of the ’90s sitcom Seinfeld once said, they’ve “got hand.” India has the upper hand when it comes to defense sanctions against the Russians.

The Russian government confirmed today that Putin will oversee the signing of an S-400 air defense system deal with India this week. The roughly $5-billion deal is “quite likely” according to the India state press after being delayed because of U.S. sanctions. Now that India is confident that it has a waiver around those sanctions, the missile contract looks imminent.

 

The Russian-built S-400 Triumf—aka the SA-21 Growler in NATO terminology—is a long-range surface-to-air missile system. It is considered to be more effective than the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system developed by Lockheed Martin. The S-400 is a mobile system that can be deployed within five minutes and is capable of firing three types of missiles. It can simultaneously track 100 airborne targets, including super-fighters such as the F-35, and engage six of them at the same time.

Washington is well aware that it cannot punish India for this deal. India is a key military partner. Secretary of Defense James Mattis had asked the Senate to exempt India from the recent sanctions. And Admiral Harry Harris, Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, said India represented a “strategic opportunity” for American defense contractors.

 

U.S. defense deals with India have grown from near zero to $15 billion since 2008, with Tata Advanced Systems being a key partner. Harpoon missiles, Apache and Chinook helicopters are all partially manufactured in India. Lockheed Martin aircraft and Boeing drones do not want to lose India because of Russia.

So as evidence that India will not be cowered, Washington gave Modi a waiver from Russian defense sanctions in July.

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