A New Chapter in Defence and Strategic Ties

India's Strategic Strengths

“It is an important day for our nation. It is a golden day in Indian Navy’s history. For me, it is a matter of pride and happiness that INS Vikramaditya is joining the Navy”, said Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as he dedicated India’s largest warship to the nation. Balaji Chandramohan has more

As India under the premiership of Narendra Modi and Russia under President Vladimir Putin assert their position in the international arena, they will also revisit and reset their existing bilateral relationship and help each other expand their Sphere of Influence with tactic support at the strategic and operational level.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to INS Vikramaditya, India’s second aircraft carrier, in Goa assumes significance and sends a clear message to India’s immediate neighbours that New Delhi is ready to expand itself in the maritime domain, and assume the dual role of a net security provider and a power projector with the operational spring board provided by Russia.

India’s Pride

Technically, INS Vikramaditya build as Admiral Gorshkov was commissioned in 1987. The carrier served with the Soviet (until the dissolution of the Soviet Union) and Russian navies before being decommissioned in 1996, owing to rising costs.

The operational edge that India will derive with the induction of INS Vikramaditya is clear. The Indian Navy, the fifth largest in the world, will have its second aircraft carrier with a primary role of power projection, and the secondary role of providing the necessary deterrence on the western side as the aircraft carrier will be primarily based in India’s naval base in Karwar and will perform operations on India’s western fleet.

Further, the 45 MiG-29K combat aircraft from Russia will also be based on INS Vikramaditya. The first batch of 16 planes has been delivered and is kept at INS Hansa naval air base in Goa. The operational edge will be further strengthened when India inducts its first indigenous aircraft carrier, which is likely to join operational service around 2018-19.

India will also use Russia’s technical expertise to induct INS Vikramaditya in fleet operations, which China, with its first carrier Liaoning (the former Soviet Admiral Kuznetsov Class carrier, Varyag) has been unable to achieve. INS Vikramaditya will have comparable armament and a similar sized air wing as its Chinese counterpart. Unlike Liaoning, India’s Vikramaditya will have the operational edge in travelling to distant seas, as observed by the United States naval experts.

Impetus to Political Strategic Cooperation

By providing the aircraft carrier, Russia has accepted India’s greater role in the maritime sphere though it is yet to provide the green signal for the deployment of fighter aircraft in India’s first foreign air base in Ayni, Tajikistan. This move will further enhance India’s operational readiness on the continental front, facing both China and Pakistan. Politically, India has agreed to Russia’s recent stance on Ukraine despite pressure from other Western countries.

Apart from the above political-strategic cooperation, India and Russia have agreed to enhance cooperation in the key areas of rocket, missile and naval technologies in the fourth and fifth generation warfare. The BrahMos missile system is an example of this type of cooperation. India and Russia have agreed to extend indefinitely their 15-year-old partnership for producing the BrahMos supersonic anti-ship missile and to develop a still more potent hypersonic version of the missile. Joint development of the fifth generation fighter aircraft, multi transport aircraft, as well as the licensed production of SU-30 aircraft and T-90 tanks in India, are other examples of flagship cooperation programmes presently underway in this area.

The present government will continue the earlier government’s initiative to conduct the annual meeting of the Intergovernmental Commission for Military-Technical Cooperation, which aims to enhance operational readiness of the Indian forces on land, in air and sea, thereby enhancing coordination among the tri-services.

Cooperation in space technologies includes Russia’s offer of GLONASS, which is Russia’s equivalent of the US Global Positioning System, to India. In December 2012, India and Russia signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to collaborate on the GLONASS programme.

Further, Russia has decided to set up two GLONASS ground control stations in India. India is the only country to which Russia has agreed to give access to GLONASS military-grade signals, which will enable the Indian military to greatly improve the accuracy of its land, sea, air and space-launched weapon systems. These signals will allow missiles, including those fired from the nuclear submarine Chakra, to strike within half a metre of distant targets. Currently, the system is operated by 23 fully operational satellites.

INS Vikramaditya is the most powerful symbol of India’s military reach and the first visit of a national leader to the largest and most powerful warship of the Indian Navy is a demonstration of national power and the strategic importance of the alliance with Russia.

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Balaji Chandramohan

Balaji Chandramohan is associated with the Centre for Joint Warfare Studies, a think tank of Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff and handles the Communication Cell of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the ruling party in India. He is also a member of the Australian Labour Party and New Zealand Labour Party. Views expressed in the article are his own and not necessarily of his political affiliations and think tank.

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