By Nallan Chakravarthy Bipindra
Signalling its impatience over delays in Russian after-sales- support for military equipment, India has for the first time gone shopping worldwide for spares for its vintage fighter jets, transport aircraft, helicopters, missiles and radars.
The government has issued global tenders to international suppliers to urgently replenish its stocks of spares for MiG-23, MiG-27 and MiG-29 combat planes, IL-76 heavy-lift planes, IL-78 midair refuelers, all Mi-series of helicopters, Pechora and OSA-AK air defence missiles and P-18 and P-19 radars.
The shopping list also includes engines for MiG-27 combat planes and AN-32 transport aircraft and spares for ST-68 long-range radars. These tenders are said to be worth several million dollars.
“Haven’t we made it quite obvious?” remarked a top Indian Air Force (IAF) officer when, speaking to IANS on condition of anonymity, he was asked why the tenders had been issued and whether this was directly related to the problems India has had in obtaining spares from Russia in the recent past. He also indicated that more such tenders were in the pipeline.
Asked about the troubles in spares supply, an official at the Russian embassy here, who did not want to be named, said the equipment, weapons platforms and aircraft were “pretty old” and that Russia was not manufacturing them any more.
“That is where I think we have a problem in supplying spares,” he said.
India has in the past bought spares for its Soviet/Russian-origin equipment through the Moscow-based Rosoboronexport agency. India may now look at buying spares from some nations that were once part of the former Soviet Union, including Ukraine, and other eastern European nations.
The Indian decision to look outside Russia for spares comes a year after Moscow flexed its muscles to obtain a hike in the cost of refurbishing the Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier to a whopping $2.34 billion. The Gorshkov was originally bought in 2004 for $1.5 billion, with $974 million meant for the refurbishment and the balance of a squadron of 18 MiG-29s that will be deployed on the ship.
The IAF also has problems with the serviceability of the MiG-23, MiG-27 and MiG-29 fighter jets, leading to the government informing parliament this February that it was planning to phase out the Russian-origin accident-prone MiG-series fighter jets by 2017, when modern planes would be inducted.
Defence Minister A.K. Antony had also told parliament that though the quality of spares from Russia for military equipment was all right, there were “some slippages in delivery” of spares, as companies manufacturing them had shifted base.
Antony has also raised the issue with his Russian counterpart Anatoly Serdyukov at meetings of the India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission over the last couple of years.
(Get in touch with Nallan Chakravarthy Bipindra at firstname.lastname@example.org)