India and Russia on Dec. 24 reinforced their defense ties by signing weapons deals worth around $4.5 billion, including pacts for procuring 42 new Su-30 MKI combat aircraft and 71 Mi-17V5 medium-lift military helicopters.
New Delhi will buy kits for the Sukhoi Su-30 MKI fighters for licensed production by state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL).
"The new Su-30 MKI fighters deal, estimated at nearly $3 billion, will add to the 230 Sukhois earlier contracted," a defense ministry official says. This will take the total number of Su-30 MKI fighters in the Indian Air Force (IAF) to 272 in the next four to five years with 170 of them already in operation in the force.
The official adds that these multi-role frontline aircraft also could be equipped with Indo-Russian joint venture BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles.
HAL says the latest contract for the Su-30 MKI fighter jet has increased the company's total order book for the twin-seater aircraft to 222. "We have already delivered 119 of the total to the IAF," Chairman R. K. Tyagi says.
Russia also will sell India 71 MI-17 V-5 military helicopters worth $1.5 billion under a follow on order by the IAF for the new 'V5' version. Under the contract, 59 of the helicopters will be bought for the IAF, while the remaining 12 will be used by the paramilitary forces.
"The order for the 71 Mi-17 helicopters is an increase from a February 2010 agreement to procure 59 such helos," the defense ministry official says.
These helicopters would be used by the IAF to replace its existing fleet of older versions of MI-17 and MI-8 aircraft in its inventory.
The MI-17s will add to the 80 of these helicopters already inducted into the Indian armed forces.
India is one of the world's largest MI-8 and MI-17 operators, with more than 100 rotorcraft in service.
A joint venture agreement for establishing a manufacturing facility for the Russian MI and Kamov helicopters in India also was signed by Elcom Systems Private Ltd. and OAO Vertoleti Rassi (JSC Helicopters, Russia).
"The proposed manufacturing facility in India between Elcom Systems and Russian Helicopters will serve as a base to manufacture rotorcraft products, and also implement offset projects under various defense contracts in India," the defense official says.
Russia also has assured India that INS Vikramaditya, the refurbished 44,570-tonne Admiral Gorshkov for which $2.33 billion has been paid, will not be delayed beyond the latest revised delivery deadline of November 2013.
The agreements were signed during Russian President Vladimir Putin's day-long visit to New Delhi to attend the 13th Russia-India summit.
"Russia is a key partner in our efforts to modernize our armed forces and enhance our defence preparedness. A number of joint design, development and production projects are underway in high technology areas. We expressed satisfaction that these projects are progressing well," India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says.
India and Russia are likely to sign a multi-billion dollar contract soon for the design and joint development of a stealth fifth-generation fighter. The research and development contract is estimated to cost $11 billion, with the two countries expected to equally share the cost. India plans to acquire 214 of these fighter airplanes by the end of 2030 at an estimated cost of over $30 billion
"The two nations also discussed the progress made in the joint development and production of the fifth-generation fighter aircraft [FGFA]," the defense ministry official says.
The first FGFA prototype is expected to be delivered in 2014 and its production is likely to start in 2020 in India, he adds.
India in the last decade has diversified its military hardware procurement, especially toward the U.S., Israel, France and the U.K., due to commercial disagreements with Russia, and delayed delivery of weapons and spare parts.
However, Moscow remains New Delhi's top supplier of arms, accounting for more than 60-70% of India's arms purchase.
"It's clear that because New Delhi has set a course for diversification of weapons suppliers, the competitive battle is escalating. Russia is ready for this," Russia's ambassador to India, Alexander Kadakin, said in an interview posted Dec. 24 on the Russian Foreign Ministry web site.