Looking Back to Look Ahead

Russia is keen to continue its defence industrial cooperation with India

Pravin Sawhney and Ghazala Wahab

Moscow: Faced with interminable delays, growing competition and a supposedly ‘fickle’ customer, Rosoboronexport is making, what its director general Alexander Mikheev calls, an unprecedented offer to India for its submarine programme P-75I.

Director, FSMTC Dmitry Shugaev (L) with director general, Rosoboronexport, Alexander Mikheev

“We have had fruitful cooperation with India over a number of programmes, including submarines. We also have years of experience working with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and have been working with it on the development of its Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) system. We are making an offer to the Indian government to jointly develop a submarine which is entirely Indian in concept and design. It will be a new submarine and not something that is available in the market today. We hope that our offer will be accepted as a government to government programme and not as part of a global tender,” Mikheev told a group of Indian journalists on the side-lines of the Army 2018 exhibition.

The special press interaction was held in the historic President hotel of the Soviet era. Huge, ostentatious and reflective of government-style maintenance, President hotel, one among the several government-owned hotels in Russia, is run directly by the President’s office and had full security detailing including scrutinising the passports of the visitors right at the entry gate which had an access control system in place. The venue of the press meet reflected the importance of the event. And from Russian perspective, it was an important event.

For the first time, director Federal Services for Military Technical Cooperation (FSMTC) Dmitry Shugaev and DG, Rosoboronexport were meeting the international media. The press officer who made this meeting possible was at pains to underline the significance of this interaction. “Mr Shugaev has never met the journalists before,” she said. “Our general attitude has been of reticence, we don’t like to speak with the press. But things are changing now, and I have been able to convince him that unless he engages with the media, especially friendly media, how the Russian perspective would get conveyed.”

More than ever before, today it is important for Russia to reach out to its friends and impress upon them that as far as defence industrial cooperation is concerned, nothing is off the table. It was with this background that Mikheev made the offer for the Indian submarine programme P-75I, which, when conceptualised two decades ago, was expected to fall in the Russian lap.

Today, even as the Indian ministry of defence (MoD) has not moved forward on the request for information (RFI) that was issued in 2016, rumours have been rife that the MoD may just scrap the global tender completely and settle for the follow-on orders on the current Scorpene submarine programme, which is being built at Mazagon Dock and Shipbuilders Ltd in collaboration with French company Naval Group. Therefore, a reiteration of what Russian industry can do exclusively for India.

Picking up on the theme of cooperation that goes back several decades, Shugaev recounted the number of programmes, ranging from Kaveri engine (“our cooperation is aimed at the physics of the project”) to ship-building and missiles in which Russian industry has worked very closely with the DRDO. “A lot of this is sensitive information,” Shugaev said, “hence, I would not like to go into the details. But we have worked with the DRDO on basic research of different programmes and we continue to do this. The depth and volume of our cooperation with India is unparalleled,” he added.

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