December 26, 2007:
India and China are both playing rough with
their largest arms supplier; Russia. China and India both have price disputes
with Russia, and India is also upset that Russia is supplying China with RD93
jet engines for Chinese made fighters that are being sold to Pakistan. Both
China and Russia are threatening to halt purchases if Russia does not back off
on attempts to raise prices on contracts that have already been agreed to.
China is playing a weak position here, because of a Western embargo on arms
sales to China (because of China being a sometimes brutal police state and
behaving badly by selling weapons to all manner of nasty people). India is in a
stronger position, and is buying more and more weapons from Western suppliers.
Currently, India is in the market for 126 top-line fighters. India has told
Russia that if those RD93 equipped Chinese fighters keep going to Pakistan,
Russia can forget about its chances of winning the competition (worth over $6
billion) for the 126 fighters.
How did it get to this?
In November, 2007, after changing its
mind several times over the last few years, Russia finally agreed to allow the use of Russian
made engines, in Chinese made JF-17 (also known as FC-1) jet fighters that are
exported (to Pakistan, Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia.) Lebanon, Burma, Iran and Sri Lanka have also
shown interest in this low cost fighter that is similar to early model F-16s.)
Earlier in 2007, Russia announced that none of
the 500 Russian RD-93 jet engines China is buying could be exported to a
foreign country. This was a problem, as China needs those engines for the 150
JF17 fighters it is building for Pakistan. What makes this particularly nasty
is that Pakistan has invested $150 million in the development of the JF17.
Pakistan thought Russia would give China permission to export the RD93 equipped
aircraft. After all, China was such a large customer for RD93 engines
(originally designed for the MiG-29), and those 500 RD93 engines are worth
But apparently India played hardball, and
demanded that the Russians forbid the export of the RD93s from China to
Pakistan. India is a major customer for Russian weapons, including cooperative
development deals. China is a big customer for Russian weapons as well, but
India buys more stuff, and is seen as less of a future threat to Russia than
China. Pressure from many other nations interested in the JF-17 apparently
caused the Russians to finally relent.
But it gets more interesting. China has
been developing a similar (apparently identical) engine to the RD93, the WS-13.
Actually, this effort is being aided by Russia, which is selling China
technology needed for the manufacture of key engine components. Russia isn't
happy about this, because they don't want competition in the low cost jet engine
market. Then again, China has a history of stealing technology it cannot buy,
so the Russians are making the best of a bad situation. China says the WS-13 is
nearly ready for service. Maybe, maybe not. Building high performance military
jet engines is difficult, and China has had problems mastering this kind of
stuff. Not that they will not eventually acquire the skills, but until they do,
they need the Russian made RD93s.
China shipped two RD93 equipped JF-17s
to Pakistan in March 2007, and informed the Russians that, according to the
their interpretation of the 1992 RD-93 contract, China could re-export the
RD-93 engines. The situation sat, unresolved, until the Summer of 2007, when
the Russians said that they believed that the 1992 contract was quite clear
about China needing Russian permission, and China didn't have it. The Russians
were playing hardball, at the behest of the Indians. Apparently, India is
expected to use this RD-93 veto to get Pakistan to offer up some appropriate in
the current peace talks between the two countries.
Russians problems are largely of its
own making. In several warship and fighter sales deals, they screwed up and
quoted too low a price. Russia admits that, and wants to change to a higher
price. Both China and Russia are not cooperating. To further complicate
matters, China has been shamelessly stealing Russian military technology, and
producing copies, without compensating the Russians for the stolen technology.
China denies this, but it's all pretty blatant.
No one knows how this will all turn
out. All three nations believe they have strong negotiating positions, but
eventually, someone will have to blink, and back off.