Under the deal, Russian firms will transfer the tank technology to Indian partners in a bid to shake off the armed forces’ over-dependence on Russian supplies, they said.
It aims to ensure India’s fleet of battle tanks will fire more accurately, move faster and provide better comfort to the crew, they said. The upgrade program would be undertaken by both the Indian ordnance factories and private sector firms.
India has inked contracts for about 1,450 T-90s from Russia since 2001, of which 124 were bought directly from Russia and the rest are being license-built at an Indian ordnance factory. They are the Indian Army’s main battle tanks deployed along the borders with Pakistan in the Rajasthan desert, Punjab and on the Jammu and Kashmir plains.
"India’s focus should be on Russians building Indian technology partners for upgrading the T-90s, as the Indian Army operates the largest fleet of these tanks in the world," said K. J. Singh, a former Indian Army tank commander and independent analyst.
Russia is a major supplier of defense equipment to the India armed forces, with at least 60 percent of their arms inventory of Russian origin.
The talks for the T-90 upgrade program began earlier this year and gained pace at a two-day India-Russia industry conference hosted by the Indian Ministry of Defence in New Delhi on March 17 and 18, the people said. Over 100 Russian and 150 Indian industry representatives joined the conference, including officials from Uralvagonzavod OAO, the original equipment manufacturer of T-90 tanks.
The India Defence Ministry spokesman Nitin Wakankar said he had no comment on the talks. A spokesman for Rosoboronexport, Russia’s state arms exporter, couldn’t immediately comment on the report.
India and Russia also finalized agreements for the maintenance of the Air Force’s 270-jet Sukhoi combat fleet at the conference. The two deals, worth $315 million, were signed by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. with United Aircraft Corp. and United Engine Corp. for the long-term supply of spares and technical assistance for five years for the Sukhoi combat planes.
The projects will operate under the umbrella of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Make in India’ program that seeks to boost domestic manufacturing. Major Russian companies, such as United Aircraft, United Engine, United Shipbuilding Corp., Russian Helicopters and Uralvagonzavod made detailed presentations on cooperation with Indian companies at the conference.
At the event, Minister of Defence Arun Jaitley described Russia as "a key, long-standing and time-tested partner" in the defense sector, and said the support extended by Russia to Indian defense platforms was "critical" for the war-preparedness of the armed forces.
"Historically, Russians have extracted their price, and have kept us dependent on them, by selling licensed-production in the name of transfer of technology," Singh said. "But in the long run, it is in India’s best interests to seek autonomy in supply of spares for the Russian platforms."