The Age of Ideas

Russia hard-sells light amphibious tank Sprut and MiG-35 at Army 2018

Pravin Sawhney and Ghazala Wahab

Patriot Park, Kubinka: One of the interesting encounters at Russian government’s International Military-Technical Forum ‘Army 2018’ took place in the Pakistan pavilion which was helmed by its flagship Heavy Industries Taxila (HIT).

Military equipment is a prop for visitors to the show (left); the BrahMos Aerospace stand was located alongside Heavy Industries Taxila

FORCE stopped at the pavilion, located close to India-Russia joint venture BrahMos Aerospace out of sheer curiosity and was greeted warmly by the junior commissioned officer who was doubling up as the receptionist. He offered tea and insisted that FORCE step inside the pavilion and talk with officers present. One thing led to another and FORCE found itself chatting with the communication-in-charge of HIT, who recounted her meeting with a retired Indian Army officer (now working with a global defence company) who visited the pavilion in the morning.

“He told me that if India and Pakistan were one country we could have had a huge pavilion here, which would have been the envy of everyone else. It was a wonderful statement coming from an army officer and had a ring of truth to it,” she said. With this opening, the conversation gravitated towards shared history. However, just then a visitor came who sought a meeting with the head of Pakistan delegation. A Pakistani national himself, he must have been living in Russia for a while as he spoke fluent Russian.

Eyeing FORCE warily, he tried to persuade the lady to one side so that he could explain why he wanted the appointment. The lady didn’t move. She smiled warmly and said, “They are friends. There is no problem.” The man hesitated for a moment, and then finally blurted out, “I am fixing some meetings for T-90 tanks, that is why I have to meet brigadier sahib.”

“The brigadier is on a call right now,” the unflappable lady said and invited him to wait with us. More tea and cookies were ordered, as she proceeded to reminisce about her home and family. It was Eid day and she was clearly missing out on the festivities. “But work is work,” she said cheerfully.

Despite the appellation ‘international’ before its name, the Military-Technical Forum essentially is a marketing tool for Russian hardware as that is what one sees, rows and rows of tanks, armoured vehicles, guns and so on. Visually, it makes for a stunning and formidable sight. What softens the impact is the freedom that visitors, including children, have to clamber upon the military vehicles to check it out and pose for pictures.

It was no different at Army 2018. Except that this time, Russian ministry of defence had gone out of its way to invite its regular partners and potential customers. Apart from India, there were several other country pavilions including China and Pakistan. Then there were quite a few international delegations, lending the show an actual international touch. Clearly, things are changing.

As far as India is concerned, two systems were top of the mind for the Russians. While the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) wanted to pitch what it calls the new generation MiG-35 for Indian Air Force’s recent request for information for fighter aircraft programme, Rosoboronexport showcased the export version of its amphibious gun tank Sprut-SDM1.

First, the Sprut, which has been operational with the Russian Special and Marine Forces for a few years now and was successfully deployed in Syria recently. Rosoboronexport is offering this amphibious platform to the Indian military, and if insiders are to be believed, made a presentation on it to the Indian ministry of defence delegation in Moscow during the show.

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