Russia still retains a strong presence in the Indian arms market. Delhi has worked with Moscow to develop the BrahMos supersonic anti-ship and land-attack cruise missile. India also fields Russia’s S-300 air-defense system, and its INS Vikramaditya aircraft carrier is made in Russia and uses Russian aircraft. The list of Russian weapons used by the Indian military is very long. The countries have an almost 60-year history of military cooperation, but in recent years New Delhi has been shifting to purchases of US-produced weapons. Moscow has lost a few tenders to the United States and France. Now it looks like the situation is going to change and Russia will get back on its feet after some breakthrough agreements.
India is finalizing negotiations with Russia to purchase 48 additional Mi-17-V5 utility helicopters. According to Jane’s, the deal is likely to be signed in early October during Russian President Putin’s visit to Delhi. The proposed deal also includes an offset obligation that requires all vendors to invest 30% of the overall contractual value of all military purchases over $290 million into India’s defense budget. The additional Mi-17-V5s are meant to supplement the 151 similar platforms that India has already acquired. All in all, more than 400 Russian-made rotary wing aircraft are operating in India. It’s not known as yet whether the Mi-17-V5s will be weaponized.
Each Indian Mi-17V-5 is equipped with a complex navigation and KNEI-8 avionics suite. According to the Indian Express, the multitude of indicators for various information systems has been replaced with four multifunction displays. The KNEI-8 also helps reduce pre-flight inspection time.
The thick-skinned Mi-17-V5 can operate in adverse weather, day or night, in any climate conditions, carrying out transport/assault missions simultaneously. Its heavy armor protection is an advantage. In 2013, a Syrian Mi-17 was hit by an air-to-air missile launched by a Turkish fighter. The chopper survived long enough to allow its pilots to bail out over friendly territory and thus avoid capture.
With a maximum takeoff weight of 13,000 kg., it can carry up to 36 heavily armed troops or 4,000 kg. of cargo inside the cabin, with an additional 4,500-kg. payload attached on an external sling. Two TV3-117BM or VK-2500 turbo-shaft engines with a maximum power of either 2,100 hp or 2,700 hp respectively provide for a greater service/hovering ceiling and improved performance at high altitudes in hot weather. The modern, powerful engines significantly expand the helicopter’s abilities to transport heavy and bulky loads, especially in the Indian highlands and mountains. The copter can be armed with Shturm-V anti-tank missiles, S-8 rockets, and several machine guns of various calibers for engaging personnel armored vehicles, ground sites, and other fixed and movable targets. Its maximum speed is 250 km/h and standard range is 580 km. That range can be extended to 1,065 km. when fitted with two auxiliary fuel tanks. Its maximum altitude is 6,000 m.
The US paid Russia $1 billion to supply the Afghan security forces with the Mi-17s. The Afghan air force fliers preferred them to the American rotary-wing aircraft. The last batch was delivered in 2014.
Before 2014, India had studied the possibility of buying 12 Italian AgustaWestland AW101 luxury helicopters for use by its VIPs, but the deal was scrapped amidst corruption scandals. As a result, those VIPs got Russian Mi-17-V5s.
In December, Delhi and Moscow agreed to produce 200 Russian light multipurpose Ka-226T helicopters in India. The deal includes maintenance, operation, the repair of the helicopters, and technical support.
It should be noted that the news about the Mi-17-V5 deal appeared only hours after the US Congress announced that both the House and Senate had agreed on the draft National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2019. That legislation allows waivers under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) for India, Vietnam, and Indonesia (among other countries purchasing Russian military equipment) on the condition that they take steps to wean themselves off of those products. Turkey is not among those exempt from this “punishment.”
India is adamant in its desire to acquire Russia’s famous S-400 air defense system. This is an issue for the United States. India can pay billions for the weapons it needs, but buying the system has nothing to do with the NDAA provision to offer waivers to those who are trying to reduce and eventually end their purchases of Russian-made systems. Delhi never said it had any such intention. India’s Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman believes that “CAATSA cannot impact the India-Russia defense cooperation.” The last US-Indian meeting on July 6 in the “2+2” format (between the foreign and defense chiefs) was unilaterally canceled by the US. If CAATSA creates bumps in the road for the US-India relationship, Washington will lose a lucrative market and an important partner, while gaining nothing in return.
Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Morocco are currently negotiating with Russia over the purchase of the S-400. Will they be also be sanctioned under CAATSA, thus making Iran quite happy? What about Algeria, which has bought half of all the Russian weapons sold in Africa and has a growing interest in more purchases? Will the US sanction the Philippines, its old ally, for buying grenade launchers from Rosoboronexport?
The NDAA 2019 bill does not include the United States in the list of countries to be granted waivers. This means the US itself must be sanctioned for violating CAATSA by continuing to buy Russian RD-180 and RD-181 rocket engines that the United Launch Alliance can’t do without in order to power the Atlas 5 rocket used for US government launches. This is a strong argument that could be used by those who come under US attack for buying weapons and technology from Russia.