India to ink fighter jet design deal with Russia

India to ink fighter jet design deal with Russia

New Delhi: India and Russia are set to sign a design agreement for the so-called fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) during President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to India this week, Russian ambassador to India Alexander Kadakin said.

“Our plane (developed for the Russian military) is already flying in the Far East," Kadakin said, ahead of Medvedev’s 21-22 December visit that marks a decade of the formal “strategic" partnership between the two countries. Around 15 or 16 agreements could be signed on Tuesday.

Other likely pacts include a general framework agreement for setting up two more nuclear reactors at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu, and another to ease visa rules for businessmen travelling between India and Russia.

FGFA is designed to incorporate many technological advances over fourth-generation jet fighters, including all aspects of stealth, internally carried air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons, advanced avionics and integrated computer systems.

India and Russia announced in October that they had almost finalized the design agreement and series production of the FGFA could begin by 2020, with India likely to procure 250-300 aircraft for an estimated $250-300 billion.

In September, the two signed a $600 million joint venture agreement for the development and production of the military transport aircraft (MTA), of which India is likely to procure 45 units, Mint reported on 10 September.

On 16 December, Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported that Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) and Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation and arms exporter Rosoboronexport had registered the joint venture MTA Limited. “The joint venture was registered in the beginning of December in Bangalore," Ashok Nayak, chairman of HAL, told RIA Novosti. “Work on the preliminary design will start in January 2011."

Rosoboronexport is also in the running for the $11 billion tender to procure six submarines under the Project 75 (India) programme. In November, the company said it had offered its Amur-1650 submarine to India.

“The Amur-class submarines are an improvement over the Kilo class, and so the Russians have a strong bid. But India must decide if it wants to depend primarily on Russia or diversify its inventory," said brigadier (retd) Rumel Dhaiya of New Delhi’s Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.

The Russian defence exporter is also expected to begin supplying the first batch of 80 Mi-17V-5 transport helicopters in March 2011. India is acquiring the helicopters at an estimated cost of $1.3 billion.

In June, India’s cabinet committee on security cleared the purchase of 42 Sukhoi-30 MKI fighter aircraft for 15,000 crore. With this order, India will have 272 such aircraft.

Russia’s RSK MiG is also vying for the $10 billion contract for 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA).

Several other military purchases from Russia, including the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov and the 10-year lease of the nuclear-powered submarine K-152 Nerpa, have been dogged by delays and cost over-runs. While Admiral Gorshkov will cost India $2.33 billion and is scheduled for delivery only by the end of 2012, India has already paid $900 million for the Nerpa, but is unlikely to get the delivery of Akula-II class submarine before April-June, analysts said.

“There will be some other military deals but those will be done behind curtains because of the sensitivity involved," said Kadakin.

India and Russia will also be looking at how to boost bilateral trade, which stands at about $10 billion. Kadakin said the target would be $20 billion by 2015. A group of key Russian business leaders are arriving in New Delhi to meet Indian counterparts to find ways to expand their trade list that has traditionally comprised fertilisers, iron and steel, non-ferrous metals and petroleum products, he said.

“Efforts are on to forge business-to-business tie-ups between business groups," Indian foreign ministry spokesperson Vishnu Prakash said.

The India-Russia CEOs’ Forum, set up a few years ago, will present its recommendations to improve trade to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Medvedev on Tuesday. The Indian side is headed by Mukesh Ambani of Reliance Industries Ltd, while the Russian side is headed by AFK Sistema’s Vladimir Yevtushenko.

New Delhi is also keen to bid for Russian oil and gas blocks. Kadakin said Singh and Medvedev would discuss India’s prospects of bidding for blocks in the Sakhalin 3 project in Russia. The two leaders are also expected to discuss the war in Afghanistan, terrorism, Pakistan and other issues.