India on Thursday approved the purchase of 33 Russian fighter jets and upgrades to 59 war planes at a cost of ₹18,148 crore amid rising tensions with China and about two weeks after the deadliest border clash in more than four decades between the two Asian nations.
The order includes 21 MiG-29s that would be purchased directly from Russia and a dozen Sukhoi Su-30MKIs that would be produced under licence by state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL). In addition, 59 MiG-29 jets would be upgraded in Russia, the defence ministry said in a statement.
The approval by the ministry’s defence acquisition council came on a day Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Russian President reiterated his commitment to “further strengthen the special and privileged strategic partnership between the two countries in all spheres", an Indian foreign ministry statement said. The statement did not say whether the two leaders discussed India’s border tensions with China.
India’s foreign ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said on Thursday that New Delhi and Beijing will “continue their meetings both at the military and diplomatic levels… in the future to resolve the issue (current boundary tensions) to mutual satisfaction."
That Russia seemed to respond to India’s list for defence purchases at a time of tensions with China—seen a strong partner of Russia—together with support for New Delhi from countries like the US and France shows what “the global mood is like" on the issue of India-China tensions, said Harsh Pant, professor of international relations at London-based King’s College. “The support for India remains broad. It would be a smart strategy on the part of China to take this into account," he said.
The orders for the fighter jets as well as 248 indigenously developed beyond-visual-range ASTRA air-to-air missiles, with the capacity to engage and destroy highly manoeuvring supersonic aircraft during night or day—besides long-range land attack missile systems having a firing range of 1,000km are expected to come as a shot in the arm for India’s military, especially the Indian Air Force whose squadron strength is now down to 30 from the sanctioned 42.
“While the MiG-29 procurement and upgradation from Russia is estimated to cost ₹7,418 crore, the Su-30 MKI will be procured from HAL at an estimated cost of ₹10,730 crore," the statement said.
In total, the defence acquisition council approved contracts worth ₹38,900 crore, of which ₹31,130 would be purchased locally including ammunition for Pinaka multiple rocket launcher, long-range land attack cruise missile and the Astra missiles for navy and air force.
The tensions with China had prompted defence minister Rajnath Singh to visit Russia last month and meet senior members of government in Moscow to ensure supplies of spares and weapons systems. Despite India diversifying the sources from where it buys its military hardware in recent decades, an estimated 60% of its arsenal contains Russian origin systems making Delhi depend on Moscow for critical spares .
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