Friend in Need

India’s decades old relationship with Russia should keep up with the times

Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat (retd)Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat (retd)

Strong, deep, reliable foundation in science and technology, keeping long-term interests in mind, is essential to the making of a self-reliant nation. This journey started in earnest with India’s first Five Year Plan, inspired by the ideals and goals of the freedom movement. These strivings meant setting up plants to make steel; special and alloy steel; heavy engineering and machine tools (mother machines); heavy electrical; tractors and farm machinery; oil exploration ashore and offshore; and setting up a chain of laboratories in basic sciences and for developing atomic energy.

A nation’s armed forces — the army, navy and air force — are a mirror of the country’s achievements in science and technology. Military systems and capabilities are closely aligned, with strong, concurrent connections to almost all advanced technology disciplines that form the base to modernise the military and military technologies. It is difficult to name an advance in technology which does not have a close relationship with the military capabilities of a nation.

BRAHMOS launch from an Indian Navy ship

As leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi laid the foundations for a modern nation to be, and later in 1968 spelt out its military-strategic objectives, Dr Homi Bhabha, Vikram Sarabhai and Dr Satish Dhawan led the atomic energy and space establishments to deep cooperation with the corresponding advanced design and research institutes in the Soviet Union — in the Moscow and Leningrad regions as also centres ‘east of Urals’, too many to be named here. It was a deep bonding far beyond the formal agreements signed between the two governments. Members of the USSR Academy of Sciences, directors of institutes, heads of zavods (plants) interacted closely and jointly formulated detailed work plans and helped set up pioneering ventures in India in diverse sectors/ segments.

We later saw the results of this cooperation blossoming under the ‘Privileged Strategic Partnership’ with Russia in 2000, augmented and accelerated when the heads of government met annually to cover new areas in computer sciences, electronics, lasers, hyper-sonic vehicles, space, cyber security, space navigation systems, Artificial Intelligence (AI), energy, nuclear technology, material sciences, robotics and futuristic sensitive areas which are not in the public domain. The story of the actual transfer of seven cryogenic engines and their transfer of technology to India for manufacture with improvements, despite various hurdles is now too well known and its details are not necessary to narrate here. The nuclear submarine Arihant and the BRAHMOS supersonic cruise missiles are also notable examples.

All these synergies have contributed to qualitative accretion of strengths which make for the military potential of our nation.

Before I go to some examples of close cooperation in the defence area, one needs to recall that in December 1971, post the signing of the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace and Friendship, the Soviet Union was giving us near real-time satellite intelligence of all that was relevant and made a difference. Units of the Soviet Navy not only shadowed the USN Enterprise with surface combatants but their nuclear boats were also in the area of operations. All this was known to the Pentagon and likely factored by them in their decision to abandon certain complimentary operations planned earlier for intervention in Bangladesh operations.

Returning to some examples, the decision to acquire MiG-21 supersonic fighters (the first supersonics for India) was an equally significant project. The MiG engines plant at Koraput begun in 1964-65, for major overhauls in the first instance, as Air Commodore Amin, the general manager proudly told the then chief of the naval staff, Admiral A.K. Chatterji in 1968. I was accompanying the Admiral as his Flag Lieutenant. The plant now makes 80 per cent of the engine of the Su-30MKI aircraft. The MiG airframe plant was also then established at Nashik and now turns out Su-30MKI fighters.

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