July , 2016
00:00 am

Ankita Chakraborty

Strategic relations between nations often revolve around security and defence. It is necessary for developing countries like India to have strategic defence partnerships with technologically advanced countries. India has many defence partners who have been supplying key defence technology and hardware to it. Let us evaluate the relationship of India with its top five defence partners.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi plans to strengthen the country’s combat capabilities and transform India from the world’s largest arms importer to a major defence equipment manufacturer. PM Modi’s military modernization plan and his desire to see India as a major global player has indicated that the country’s defence sector is set to undergo vast changes in near future. India is also likely to bargain hard with the foreign vendors to ensure that the latest technology is transferred to it and some components are developed in India by big domestic players in the sector.


Russia has always been the leading partner for India in terms of defence deals. 2010 was a special year for India and Russia defence partnership, which was said to be a year of ‘privileged strategic partnership’ between the two countries.

A long standing and time-tested partner, Russia has continued to remain a key pillar of India’s foreign policy – be it in the field of equipping our defence forces or industrialization of the country or in the case of strategic support in the UN Security Council.  Relations between India and Russia have been based on defence technology acquisition, hydrocarbons, nuclear energy, space cooperation, trade and commerce, and science and technology.

However, some major concerns have cropped up since 2008 when India and the US started with the India-US nuclear deal. Tied to this was the concern of Russia about the growing defence relationship between India and the US. Till then, India had always been dependent on Russian armaments with more than 70% of India’s weapons being sourced from Russia. Although Russia is still the largest supplier of defence equipment to India, its share in overall imports has progressively declined.

India should focus on its relationship with Russia and strengthen its ties with the country. Both should indulge in some big-ticket deals.  Bilateral trade needs to be brought up to a decent level of $30 billion by 2025 as against the current level of below $10 billion.

India’s membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit, which was held in June 2016 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, is likely to provide a valuable opportunity for the two countries to strengthen their partnership.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi signed an agreement to build Russian design Kamov helicopters in India. Modi hailed the deal for the production of helicopters as the first major project under his “Make in India” project. “India always remembers Russia as a friend. But President Putin has infused new energy in this relationship and new enthusiasm and I see him as a friend,” Modi said in an interview with Tass, a Russian state news agency.

Russia remains India’s leading partner in the field of military-technical cooperation and nuclear technologies. Since the 26/11 attack in Mumbai, coastlines have become vulnerable to infiltrators. As a result strengthening the coastal defence system has been a priority to India.  Russia and India settled an agreement to jointly develop an effective coastal defence system. India’s Walchandnagar Industries and Russia’s Morinformsistema-Agat Concern are close to signing an agreement to jointly produce coastal defence systems in India, said Manas Kumar Das, Director of defence and aerospace programmes for Walchandnagar Industries. Walchandnagar Industries is one of the largest Defense equipment manufacturing companies in India. Details of the agreements between Walchandnagar Industries and Morinformsistema-Agat Concern will be discussed at the International Industrial Trade Fair INNOPROM 2016 to be held in Yekaterinburg, Russia. India is a strategic partner country at INNOPROM 2016.

India and Russia are ready to conclude a pending agreement to co-develop the fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA).  A deal for Research and Development programme for the (FGFA) would be processed in a few months. A plane called the ‘T-50’ built by the Russians under the PAK-FA Prospective Airborne Complex of Frontline Aviation (PAK-FA) programme as FGFA is already being tested as prototype in Russia. If the deal is executed, the Ministry of Defence-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) will be the Indian partner.


Diplomatic relations between India and Israel was started in 1992 and since then bilateral relationship between the two countries developed at the economic, military, agricultural and political levels.

According to a report by a leading Indian English daily, India’s Cabinet Committee of Security (CCS), headed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is ready for a final vote on India-Israel defense contracts and projects totalling around $3 billion. A source within India’s Ministry of Defence reported that the three pacts “should be cleared by the CCS within a month or so.”

The deals include the acquisition of 164 ‘Litening-4’ targeting pods, which are target designation tools used by ground-attack aircraft of the Indian Air Force and an undisclosed number of Spice 250 precision guided bombs. Bilateral negotiations between India and Israel are on to develop the indigenous weapons industry in India.

India-Israel relations have been fast progressing in the last decade. The two countries focus on extensive economic, military and strategic relationships. India signed three defense deals worth $3 billion with Israel. The three deals include the acquisition of 164 ‘Litening-4’ targeting pods to be used by Indian Air Force and an undisclosed number of Spice 250 precision guided bombs with a standoff range of 100 kilometers (62 miles).

Negotiations are final between the two countries over India’s import of 321 ‘Spike’ anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) systems, along with 8,356 missiles. Bilateral negotiations between India and Israel over the Spike ATGM resulted in an agreement where Bharat Dynamics Ltd. would indigenously produce the weapons on a larger scale in India.

In February 2015, India’s Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) agreed to co-develop a new Medium Range Surface to Air Missiles (MRSAM) system for the Indian Army. Even the MRSAM system would be produced by Bharat Dynamics Ltd. in India. Israel is one of the largest arms suppliers to India with annual sales worth over $1 billion. “The defence cooperation for many years has been central pillars of the relationship. The changing world, changing parameters, changing needs are always something that is on the top of our agenda and always on our radar,” said Israel’s Ambassador to India, Daniel Carmon.

Both countries have worked jointly on counter -terrorism exchanging perceptions of threats emanating from terrorism and emphasized their determination to fight the menace. Discussions on threats in regional and global perspective as well as national counter-terrorism measures were also held.

United States of America

The latest visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the US is likely to boost cooperation in defense between the two countries. Both the countries have started to exchange notes on their political and economic situations. There may also be some development on the US-India Defence and Trade Technology Initiative. As for India’s entry to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, it will take some persuasion on the part of the Obama administration to convince China to remove its opposition.

US may bring the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) through the backdoor with an objective to allow the “free flow of cross-border data” with a view to removing discriminatory and protectionist barriers.

The strategic partnership between India and US appears to be spearheaded by defence deals and agreements. From a mere $200 million in 2009, India’s defence imports from the US increased to $ 2 billion in 2013. The US became the top supplier of defence components and materials to the Indian Armed forces. The US and India have agreed on various defence deals like the sales of C130J Super Hercules transport planes, the Boeing P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircrafts, the C-17 Globemasters. Moreover the Indian government has decided to augment and modernize its ageing helicopter fleet through $2.5 billion deal with the US concerning the Boeing CH-47 Chinook and Boeing AH-64 Apache helicopters. There are further plans to buy 16 Sikorsky S-70B Sea Hawk helicopters. These deals highlight the speed with which India is arming itself with U.S defence hardware and it can lead to its dependency on US for arms and supplies.


Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had visited India recently where he expressed his keen interest in bilateral agreements and his intent in strengthening the strategic and global partnership between the two countries.

India and Japan, who are two of the largest and oldest democracies in Asia, have a high degree of convergence of political, economic and strategic interests. With a view to realise the objectives both the Prime Ministers decided on the Agreement concerning the Transfer of the Defence Equipment and Technology and the Agreement concerning Security Measures for the Protection of Classified Military Information, which further strengthens the foundation of deep strategic ties. Their potential future projects include defence.

Modi and Abe also welcomed the steady progress to realise 3.5 trillion yen of public and private financing to India in five years under the “Japan-India Investment Promotion Partnership” announced during the last annual summit meeting.

Expressing their commitment to the principles of sovereign equality of all states as well as respect for their territorial integrity, they affirmed closer cooperation in safeguarding the global commons in maritime, space and cyber domains. Their trade arrangements also spill over to regional and international ones including Nuclear Suppliers Group, Missile Technology Control Regime, Wassenaar Arrangement, and Australia Group.


Australia has been into an important strategic partnership with India and has identified India as a key security, defence, and cultural partner. According to the recently released Defence White Paper for 2016 by the Australian administration, “India is an increasingly important economic and security partner for Australia and we share key interests in regional stability and order. India’s modernization of its armed forces and participation in the regional security architecture, particularly through the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium and Indian Ocean Rim Association, supports Australia and India’s shared interests in Indian Ocean security.”

The paper also predicts “In addition to having a stronger role in the Indo-Pacific region, India is also likely to become a more active and influential global power, supported by its economic growth. India could be the world’s third-largest economy before 2030. India’s relationships with other major powers including China, the United States and Japan will help shape the global security environment out to 2035.”


India has signed a deal with France in 2016 to purchase 36 Rafale fighter jets. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Francois Hollande have successfully eased the financial differences regarding the deal. The two countries signed 13 agreements that comprised of space deals, science and technology and renovation of railway stations in India. India is focusing on developing its ageing Soviet-era military and intends to buy 126 jets for an estimated cost of $12 billion. Both countries also aiming at increasing the security and intelligence cooperation. “France and India are two great democracies; therefore we are prime targets for terrorists who cannot abide by  the ethos of liberty, democracy or cultural tolerance. We must therefore co-operate more on security,” said Hollande.

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