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India Moving Away from Russian Arms to Strengthen Ties with the U.S.

India is exploring options to reduce its dependence on Russia as its primary arms supplier due to disruptions caused by the Ukraine conflict.

While striving to diversify its weapons base, India must tread carefully to prevent Moscow from moving closer to China, a key strategic concern.

U.S., India Relations Changing

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This shift comes as the United States seeks to bolster its ties with India in the Indo-Pacific region to counter China’s influence.

Turning Away from Russia

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India, the world’s largest arms importer, has traditionally relied heavily on Russia for its defense needs, accounting for 65% of its weapons purchases over the last two decades.

Seeking New Allies

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The United States aims to strengthen its relationship with India as part of its Indo-Pacific strategy, with the goal of reducing India’s historical reliance on Russian arms.

Diversifying Weapons Sources

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India is now considering diversifying its sources of weaponry to enhance its domestic production capabilities.

Avoiding Major Military Deals with Russia

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“We are not likely to sign any major military deal with Russia,” said Nandan Unnikrishnan, a Russia expert at New Delhi think tank the Observer Research Foundation.

“That would be a red line for Washington.”

Efforts to Promote Domestic Manufacturing

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” program emphasizes domestic manufacturing and aligns with the desire to reduce dependence on foreign suppliers.

Growing Defense Budget

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India has plans to spend nearly $100 billion on defense orders over the next decade.

Collaboration with the United States

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India and the United States have signed agreements to produce fighter jet engines in India, marking a significant shift in cooperation.

At the time, they stated that they also intended to “fast-track” technological cooperation and co-production in fields like air combat and intelligence.

Concerns Over China

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Growing tensions with China, especially along their disputed Himalayan border, contribute to India’s focus on bolstering its defense capabilities.

Balancing Act with Russia

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India must carefully manage its relationship with Russia, given its status as the largest buyer of Russian arms and a significant purchaser of Russian oil.

Maintaining Influence Through Arms Purchases

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India recognizes that arms purchases provide a degree of influence, and completely shutting out Russia could make it more subservient to China.

Impact of the Ukraine War

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The Ukraine conflict has raised questions about Russia’s ability to provide spare parts for India’s military equipment, leading to concerns about operational readiness.

“As the Ukraine war stretches, it raises questions if Russia will be able to give us spare parts,” said Swasti Rao, Eurasia expert at the state-run Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, to Reuters.

“It is fuelling the diversification.”

Diversification Plans

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India is considering acquiring French jets for its aircraft carrier, manufacturing submarines with Western technology, and developing fighter jets with American and French engines.

Multi-Alignment Strategy

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India aims to maintain a multi-alignment strategy, balancing ties with both Russia and the West, although the distribution may not be equal.

Russian Overtures

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has made efforts to secure more defense deals with India, but India’s focus is shifting toward other areas.

Challenges in Defense Collaboration

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Some collaborative projects between India and Russia have faced delays and hiccups, raising concerns about the reliability of Russian supplies.

Long-Term Dependency

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India will require Russian spares for maintenance and repair of its military hardware for nearly two decades.

India and Russia also collaborate on projects such as the BrahMos cruise missile and the production of AK-203 rifles within India.

Issues with Russian Deliveries

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India has experienced delays and challenges in the delivery of major defense platforms and air defense systems from Russia.

Helicopter Deal Quashed

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For instance, the 2015 agreement between the two countries to jointly produce 200 Kamov Ka-226T helicopters in India for its armed forces has not moved forward.

Rather, India began introducing combat helicopters manufactured by the government-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd in 2022.

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