Is the US replacing Russia as Asia’s arms supplier?

Note: This is the first of a number of articles for Siberian Light by Tanya. You can identify who is the author of any particular post by checking the tag line just under the post title.

In late February it was discovered that India and USA have begun consultation at the high level about question of cooperation in the area of ballistic missile defence. According to a statement by Robert Gates, US Secretary of State for Defense, the question was about US participation in the development of an Indian ballistic missile defence system.

“We’re beginning to talk about conducting a joint analysis on what India’s needs would be in the realm of missile defence, and where co-operation might help advance that.”

This is a very important project for Deli, because India is facing threats from neigbouring states� threats, especially from Pakistan, which has nuclear weapon. This expansion of military cooperation between India and USA implies certain consequences for geopolitics.

India�s entering to American influence is one more stage in the development of the so called Big Asia Belt, which includes all the countries from Turkey to Iraq, Afganistan and Pakistan to Indo-China. Russia left this region in 2003 giving up its base in Vietnam. As a result there are only two countries which are free of American military influence in this region � Iran and China.

Cooperation in the area of ballistic missile defence development gives the US an opportunity to include India in the global American anti-missile system. However, taking into account military activity in Caucasus, cooperation between Deli and Washington may lead to Russian concerns that any Southern missile defence system would also be directed at Russia. Therefore, it is necessary to pay attention to the fact, that Robert Gates visit to India synchronized with preparations for the placement of the American anti-missile system in Czech Republic and Poland. And, at the same time NATO has been holding a summit where a key item on the agenda was whether to include Ukraine and Georgia as NATO members and whether to begin cooperation with these countries in the anti-missile sphere.

Does Russia still sell what countries want to buy?

Russia has been selling military equipment to India for many years. Also it has been negotiating for the last 5 years about the creation of an Indian missile defence system based on the Russia C-400 system.

However, Russia has not proved a reliable supplier, and a few big contracts have been broken. India accuses Russian producers, because they often don�t deliver on time, or ask for more resources. Moreover, India complains that Russian equipment is often of very low quality.

One of the biggest scandals happened 4 years ago. India discovered a lot of defects in the anti-air system �Shtil-1�, which has been installed on 3 destroyers. These system even couldn�t hit the target! As a result, a �Rosoboronexport� � Russia�s ams export agency � were fined $40 million.

Russian CarrierCurrently there is a conflict between India and �Rosoboronexport� which touches on reconstruction of the aircraft �Admiral Gorshkov�. Accordng to the contract which was signed 4 years ago, reconstruction of the aircraft must be done by 2011. But Russia recently said that expenses for modernization described in the contract were twice under-estimated. That is why Russia has asked to prolong the time of works and asked for more finances. The same thing has happened with other projects. One month ago India rejected to accept submarine �Sinduvijay� which has been reconstructed in Severodvinsk.

A lot of claims have been made against other projects: planes have defects which make them impossible to use, components are supplied with a huge delay and their quality is very low. All this makes India less likely to buy Russian military equipment. Currently India buys weapons in USA and following the recent visit of Robert Gates to India, it was decided to begin cooperation in the sphere of nuclear technologies.

Similar problems complicate relations between Russia and China. China already has given up to buying Russian military equipment. Algeria also refused to accept planes and tanks because their quality doesn�t correspond international norms.

Russian euphoria, which appeared in 2003-2005 with growth of orders for military equipment, resulted in over-estimation of forces and capacities by Russian organizations which were producers of military equipment. They signed more contracts for weapon supply than they could realize.

All this has almost destroyed the image of Russia in the sphere of militaty technologies. And in fact Moscow soon will find out itself sidelined in the market of military equipment, particularly in the Asiatic market.

In my opinion Russia will lose its place in the market, if does not take certain measures to improve of its image among countries currently looking to buy military equipment. In particular, it must ensure that it makes a realistic estimation of its capacities � financial and timings � and ensure that the equipment it supplies is of sufficient quality.

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8 Responses

  1. GER O'BRIEN says:

    Maladyets Tanya, was a very interesting article and I learnt something new. I’d heard that Algeria had given back equipment, but had thought it was a once-off, not the rule! It wasnt so long ago Putin was in Deli getting loads of orders. Changed times indeed, and the gear must be very bad for India to want to buy US- India and the US have not been good friends for a very long time.

  2. Andy says:

    Yeah, it’s going to be interesting to see if Russia can compete outside of the bottom (read: cheap) end of the arms market without massively upping quality.

    In a time of increasing insecurity, increasingly wealth and increasingly sophisticated military technology, countries are going to be increasingly looking for quality over quantity.

  3. GER O'BRIEN says:

    Well Andy I’m just greatly suprised that was the case with Russian gear. When you think of Kursk, AK-47s, T-34s, MiG 29s…its just terrible this has happened to the Russians and obviously their own fault. I read many years ago that militarily it’s not possible anymore to field the vast numbers of troops that went out in previous big wars (seemingly the US’s big problem is they were never able to bring as much troops as they need to Iraq) and that modern gear is all about quality (killing efficiency?) as a result.

  4. Andy says:

    I think lack of available personnel is certainly a factor – there are far fewer who want to serve in the army these days. The army was traditionally seen as an escape from poverty, an opportunity to better oneself. But in today’s world of plenty, releatively fewer people need to join the army to escape?

    As well as this, though, is the increased media coverage of war and the value we place on human life. As a result, the political cost of each war death is higher than it was in, say, the 1950s. Compare, for example, British actions in Malay with British actions in Afghanistan today.

    And, if politicians have access to as much money as they need, they’re bound to invest it in the military equipment needed to protect their political capital.

    Plus, of course, better equipment gives you an edge over your opponent.

    (God, I sound like a cynic this morning).

  5. Tim Newman says:

    Russia always excelled in providing kit which required little maintenance and could be operated by personnel who have not had much by way of education. This ease of use and maintenance was a trade off against quality and effectiveness, which suited the Russians and most of the clients during the Cold War.

    With the exception of most of Africa and a handful of other basket-cases, countries’ militaries have been getting smarter in terms of the people they recruit (largely due to what Andy identifies, the inability to call up millions of poverty stricken underclass), so their weapons preferences have been slowly moving away from the Russian model. Armies in countries like India now have the brains and wherewithall to operate and maintain sophisticated and thus more effective weaponry, and no longer need simple, maintenance free rifles which never jam but don’t have anywhere near the accuracy of their western counterparts.

  6. Shantanu Chatterjee says:

    I am seriously begining to wonder if the ex KGB clique that runs russia has decided to slowly erase India from its list of friends.Russia was until recently our best friend as far as such a thing is possible in the calculating world of statecraft.Very sad indeed!

  1. March 22, 2008

    […] Siberian Light – Is the US replacing Russia as Asia’s arms supplier? […]

  2. April 7, 2008

    […] the Russian weblog, Siberian Light, I found an article discussing Russia’s decline as a military supplier, particularly for India, which has seen a number of high-profile projects go awry. It’s hard […]