Procurement: India And The Need For Speed

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October 6, 2018: India is in the process of trying to buy four more Talwar frigates from Russia (for $2.2 billion) and five batteries of S-400 SAM systems (for $5.4 billion). These transactions reflect two problems India is having with military procurement. The first is that India felt it could be capable of building all its own warships by now, as well as modern air defense systems. That turned out not to be the case. While two of these Talwars will be built in India the first two will come from Russia and there will be substantial purchases of Russian shipbuilding technology to enable India to build the other two Talwars. The two Russian built Talwars already exist as Admiral Grigorivich class frigates. These are the Russian versions of the Talwars with some differences in weapons and electronics (that can easily be changed). Russia has not put these two ships into service because they do not have their turbine engines, which are manufactured in Ukraine. After Russian invaded Ukraine in 2014 Russia was unable to get the military equipment it had on order with Ukraine. But India can buy the turbines and has made arrangements to do so and have them installed.

Once all four of these Talwars are in service India will build seven advanced (P-17A) "stealth" frigates. These are larger (at 6,600 tons) than the Talwars India ordered since the 1990s. The Stealthy Talwars have their superstructure changed so as to reduce the radar signature (making the ship less likely to show up on enemy radars). Improved weapons and electronics are installed as well, making it a more formidable warship than the original Talwars. India began building the first of three stealth Talwar (Project 17) ships in 2001 and realized it was going to have a difficult time given the current state of Indian warship construction capabilities. India built three of these Project 17 stealth ships but it took nine years for each one to get into service. India is purchasing more experience and manufacturing equipment to speed up warship construction, especially the P-17A ships.

In 2012-13 Russia delivered the last of three Talwar class frigates. These are the last surface ships India is buying abroad. India ordered these three ships (for $1.6 billion) in 2006. The 4,000 ton P-17 project Talwar's are 124.5 meters (386 feet) long, carry 24 anti-aircraft and eight anti-ship missiles, four torpedo tubes, as well as a 100mm gun, short-range anti-missile autocannon, a helicopter, and anti-submarine weapons (rockets and missiles). The ship has a very complete set of electronics gear, except for a troublesome Indian sonar. There is a crew of 180. All of the Talwars are equipped with eight Indian BrahMos anti-ship missile each. The Talwar is a modified version of the Russian Krivak design.

Meanwhile, India was building its own large warships. In July 2014 the Indian Navy received the first (INS Kamorta) of three Indian made corvettes. These are the first locally built modern surface warships for India. The Kamortas are 3,100 ton ships that are 109 meters (355 feet) long and have a top speed of 59 kilometers an hour. They are optimized for anti-submarine warfare and are armed with a 76.2mm gun, two 30mm multi-barrel anti-missile autocannon, two multi (12) barrel 212mm anti-submarine rocket launchers, 16 Barak anti-missile/aircraft missiles and six torpedo tubes. It has a hull-mounted sonar and carries a helicopter that can be armed with four anti-submarine torpedoes. The ship has stealthy features (small radar signature and more difficult for submarine sonar to detect as well.) By 2017 three Kamortas were in service with another under construction. India than plans to order eight more. Before the first three Kamortas were finished it was obvious that Indian warship tech and capabilities needed more help. One problem with the Kamortas was that construction was delayed by inexperience and also took about nine years per ship. China can put similar ships into service in three years.

At that point, India realized that it needed to obtain more help with shipbuilding techniques and technology and halted its plan to stop buying foreign (Russian) warships. More ships and shipbuilding tech would be purchased from Russia until India felt its own shipyards could do the job at least as well as the Russians. This now includes aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines as well as frigates and corvettes.

There is already a problem with building more nuclear subs in India. India discovered with its first locally built nuclear sub (Arihant) that Indian shipbuilders were not really ready to build more nuclear subs without substantial technology transfer. Details of these deals are still being worked out. Meanwhile, India has twelve more nuclear submarines it is ready to build in India, but not with the current state of Indian nuclear sub construction capabilities.

Then there is another problem; the economic (especially American) sanctions imposed on Russia because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014. In general, these sanctions prohibit the sale of any weapons to Russia. In 2014 Russia in the process of buying several types of weapons (and technology in some cases) from the West. That stopped, with France halting the handover of two Mistral amphibious ships to Russia and refunding the billion dollars Russia had already paid for them. Recently the Americans imposed additional sanctions against Russian weapons exports. In 2017 the United States created CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act) which made it difficult, and in some cases impossible, for Russia to get paid for weapons exports. China has already run afoul of CAATSA because of Su-35 fighters China is buying from Russia. India, which has been improving diplomatic and military relations with the United States is potentially subject to the full force of CAATSA as it tries to carry out these ship and air defense purchases. India hopes to get an exemption on all or some of these purchases. India and Russia have already agreed to pay for the ships and air defense purchases without using dollars. India would pay in its currency (the rupee) and Russia could use the rupee to buy goods from India. However, full use of CAATSA seeks to prohibit even that and given the control the Americans exercise on the global banking system going full CAATSA would be a major problem for Russia and India. At this point, India does not want to damage its military relations with either Russia or the Americans. While India has been moving away from Russia as a supplier of military goods (because of poor quality and even less effective support) the Indian military is still operating with a lot of Russian military tech. If India is to go from Russian weapons to Western ones it wants to do so in an orderly fashion. Russia can make something of that, giving the Russians more opportunities to show that they have really, really improved. The last few times Russia tried that there was, at best, mixed success. So additional opportunities are something to make the most of.

 


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