Not too long ago, India’s foreign policy used to be Pakistan-centric. But from 2005 onwards, the United States also emerged on the radar screens of Indian policy makers in a big way when the two sides initiated negotiations on a civilian nuclear deal. China, meanwhile, used to be of relatively marginal interest when Indian foreign policy was discussed up until a couple of years ago. Today, though, China has become the sole obsession of Indian foreign policymakers and media outlets. So during all this diplomatic hurly-burly, Russia and Indo-Russian bilateral relations seem to have been sidelined.
However, despite a host of irritants, India and Russia have actually been engaging far more meaningfully than ever before. True, New Delhi and Moscow are no longer as militarily and diplomatically close as they were in 1971, when the two sides signed a 20-year defence pact that incorporated a vital clause that an attack on one partner would be treated as an attack on the other. The two sides nonetheless have been holding annual summits for years and are determined to re-engage much more closely. And defence cooperation is one area where New Delhi and Moscow are making rapid strides.
The Indian defence establishment reported two major developments this month that are indicative of a further deepening of Indo-Russia defense ties. On September 9, India and Russia signed a shareholders’ agreement for setting up a joint venture company that will design and develop a Multirole Transport Aircraft. Now India’s public sector Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation and Rosoboronexport will form a joint venture company headquartered in Bangalore to co-develop and co-produce the MTA, which will have a cruising speed of 800 kilometres per hour and a range of 2500-2700 kilometres. The fly-by-wire MTA will serve the needs of both the Indian Air Force and the Russian Air Force. The two countries plan to manufacture 205 MTA aircraft, which will have a number of state of the art features.
In another development, on September 5, India conducted a successful test of the advanced version BRAHMOS Block –II, which saw the first ever supersonic dive by a cruise missile. The Block-II version capabilities of the missile make the weapon even more lethal and BRAHMOS is yet another successful joint military venture between India and Russia. The missile name is a combination of the two countries’ major rivers – India’s Brahmaputra and Russia’s Moskva. The missile can be launched from multiple platforms based on land, air, ship and submarine. The Indian armed forces, meanwhile, are currently busy perfecting air-launch and submarine-launch versions of the missile, which can fly at 2.8 times the speed of sound.