Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar, arriving in Moscow on Friday for an Intergovernmental Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation, spoke in an exclusive interview with TASS about Indo-Russian joint defense projects.
- Which issues will you raise with your Russian counterparts at the meeting?
- I will put it like this. I have been reading about Russia since my childhood — Sputnik and all those magazines. Somehow they were delivered to my residence when I was at school and college long back. I have always seen Russia as an all-weather friend for India — the two countries have always had a great relationship. I believe that this relationship should be enhanced. My visit to Moscow will be an attempt to help the relationship blossom further. There are many issues that can always be in such relationships, and I think the best way is to have them resolved. I see a certain enthusiasm to resolve them from both sides as well as possibilities to involve Russia in the “Make it in India” program.
- You’ve mentioned the “Make it in India” program launched by the Indian government to transform the country into a global manufacturing hub. Are there any joint projects between our countries as part of this program which are already taking shape?
- They may not take final shape during my visit but we’d like to prepare some of them for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Russia in December — for example, the project for joint production of Kamov Ka-226 helicopters. I hope to use my visit to have it inked on paper when the prime minister arrives. Also the purchase of S-400 missile systems. We anticipate these projects to be coordinated by next month.
There are also proposals for small private-sector companies interested in tying up with Russian companies to manufacture spares. Our industry representatives visited Russia in September and I think they have come up with a few proposals. I would in fact be raising the issue that since India depends much on Russian platforms, spares supplies in the future could make the use of these platform easier. Some of the key components would be manufactured in India under this “Make it in India” program. I expect some movement on that also.
- What kind of spares?
- For Su-30MKI fighter jets. We have almost 220 of them now and ultimately the number will reach 270, which represents about 40% of Indian Air Force. When you have 40% of air force strength from a particular maker, you are obviously interested in ensuring that they are serviced properly. Those aspects will be discussed and we are coming to conclusions, to solutions to the problem. I hope that these problems will be resolved very soon so service operation is substantially enhanced.
Then there are Mi-17V-5 helicopters, which we also intend to negotiate and finalize procurement for 48 more. With that, we will have some 280 Mi-17 helicopters.
- Did I understand you clearly that a Mi-17 deal could also be finalized by the prime minister`s visit?
- Maybe. I am not very sure because it is still being coordinated but we have already decided to buy them.
- Do you think private Indian shipyards are ready, technically, for projects with Russia under the ‘Make it in India’ program? How much time will it take to equip them for implementation of future projects?
- Since you have to begin somewhere, I think they are in a much better condition than they were a couple of years ago. Whenever upgrade takes place, the technical partner, the Russian partner, will have to provide some technical aid to the shipyard. I think they are ready for upgrading. The very logic of “Make it in India” is to ensure that smooth supplies result in better performance. In the long term it helps the country which supplies the platform.
- How long will it take to start the process of shipyards` upgrading and launch the helicopter joint venture?
- I will tell my target. All the negotiations and paperwork should be completed during the current financial year. Actual implementation can start in the next financial year.
Next steps depend on the private companies set to work on these projects in India. We are trying to speed up procedures from our side. So there will be an attempt to ensure that during the current financial year, i.e. by March, things are all tied up properly.
- Do you see a frank and honest reaction from the Russian side while raising your concerns on joint projects?
- I believe that, because I am from Goa and I saw lots of Russian tourists coming there and from whatever small interaction I had with them I believe that Russia is one place where people are straightforward. They speak what is in their mind. It is easier to deal with such people and easier to sort out the issues.
- What is the state of progress on the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft and Multi-Role Transport Aircraft development program?
- As for the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA), negotiations will proceed further and we have halted ourselves to establish things clear in our minds. But with the Multi-Role Transport Aircraft, there are serious issues needing clarification, let me be frank. There are some serious observations which need to be clarified and reviewed properly.
- How much time can it take to make the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft if all goes as scheduled?
- I cannot say because we are currently at the design stage. I have directed my officers to commence the negotiations as early as possible and close the first stage so that we can proceed further.
- Do you see more areas in which Russia and India can set up joint ventures?
- Many more. I am very positive about it. Indo-Russian relations are not only of friendship but more of a strategic relationship, continuing from the 1970s. I hope to ensure that this relationship continues. There can be many more issues on which we can collaborate.
Alexander Antipin, TASS correspondent, New Delhi.