It has been a busy diplomatic year for India, which has just ticked off Russia to complete its list of P5 country leaders to visit New Delhi in the past 12 months.
The visit by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on December 21 was a historic moment for India, and offered a boost to what have of late been lukewarm Indo-Russian ties. One indication of the change was the fact that the two sides signed almost 30 agreements—11 in the presence of Medvedev and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and 18 on the sidelines of the two leaders’ annual summit in New Delhi.
The agreements, both government to government and business to business, covered a diverse range of fields including defence, disaster management, oil and gas, science and technology, nuclear energy, information technology, pharmaceuticals, trade and banking.
Of the agreements inked, the key one was a contract for the preliminary design of the Indo-Russian Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft, signed between India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and Russia’s Rosoboronexport and Sukhoi. This is the biggest-ever defence programme in India’s history, and is a development that will no doubt be watched with a certain amount of trepidation in China and Pakistan.
The total value of the entire project, involving production of between 200 to 250 aircraft, will reportedly top the $30 billion mark. India’s Defence Ministry, commenting on the deal, said: ‘Today's contract is only the first in a series of such contracts which will cover different stages of this complex programme. The total cost including options and the value of production aircraft will make this the biggest defence programme ever in the history of India.’
The project is for design and development of a 5th generation fighter aircraft that will include stealth and super-cruise capabilities as well as enhanced situational awareness, internal carriage of weapons and network centric warfare capabilities.The aircraft will be based on Russia’s T-50 prototype 5th generation fighter, and is expected to be inducted into the Russian Air Force by 2015, while the Indian Air Force will have it in service two to five years after that. India and Russia will also be jointly marketing it to third countries.
Medvedev also made all the right noises by supporting India’s candidature for United Nations Security Council’s permanent membership, doubling bilateral trade to $15 billion by 2015 and expressing Russia’s keenness to set up ‘additional nuclear reactors’ in Kundankulam, Tamil Nadu. Medvedev also remarked, without mentioning Pakistan by name, that ‘no civilized state can hide terrorists’.