India neither steering away from US, nor toward Russia: Reuters
New Delhi is eyeing to establish its own military production line, decreasing reliance on both Russia and Western countries.
India's arms purchases from the United States are more about establishing its own independent local military production than it is a move to decrease its reliance on Russian weapons and pivot toward the West, security experts and analysts say according to a Reuters report.
New Delhi is currently the world's number one arms importer, but almost all of its major defense purchases are now conditioned to include joint manufacturing or technology transfer, regardless of which country India is buying from.
India has long been interested in acquiring the US' cutting-edge weapons and equipment, but Washington has been reluctant because of India's past and continued purchase of Russian weapons.
The war in Ukraine impacted the Russian supply of weapons to India, prompting New Delhi to move forward with pre-established plans to diversify sources of imports or completely replace them with domestic manufacturing, Indian defense officials said.
Within the last 20 years, the country has purchased arms worth over $60 billion, almost 60 percent of which is from Russia, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh had confirmed earlier that India plans to buy weapons from its domestic industry worth over $100 billion over the next 10 years.
"It is a reality, that we have to reduce dependence on Russia," a senior Indian defense officer informed on the future plans told Reuters on the condition of anonimity.
"But that is part two. The part one is the effort to get out of the import business."
During Prime Minister Narendra Modi's state visit to the United States last month, New Delhi announced mutli-billion dollar orders of US arms, including an over one billion USD deal to buy GE engines for fighter jets. Discussions also covered the possible acquisition of MQ-9B SeaGuardian drones at $3 billion.
The agreement includes the joint production of the engines in the future as part of Modi's "Make in India" campaign, while assembly and maintenance of the SeaGuardians is expected to take place in-country.
The two countries are also discussing developing cooperation in logistics and intelligence-sharing.
The US ambassador to India, Eric Garcetti, said that Washington earlier paid "lip service" but now is letting India in on some of US military tech. Garcetti said that the United States was "leaning in with technology" sharing more with India than some of its closest allies.
But this will not be enough to end New Delhi's reliance on Russian defense imports as US provisions on the sharing of military technology remain limiting.
"Nobody gives you everything. They keep you at least a screwdriver away from having it fully," a second defense official told the news site.
The arms deals between India and the US "do not in themselves represent an Indian shift away from Russia," said an Indian military expert at Stanford University
"A big shift away from Russia will take multiple decades," Arzan Tarapore said.
Arms delays and China
India still uses mostly Russian technology for traditional arms. Tarapore said that the biggest potential for US-India collaboration should be on new systems India doesn’t already have.
According to Reuters, India's primary goal is to narrow the technological gap with China, which New Delhi perceives as its main rival and direct threat.
The war in Ukraine has delayed major orders from Russia to India, and further delivery extensions are likely given the circumstances. Orders included spare parts for Sukhoi Su-30 MKI and MiG-29 jet fighter planes and five Russian S-400 air defense systems that New Delhi bought in 2018 in a $5.5 billion contract.
Two Russian-made nuclear-powered attack submarines were also expected to be delivered in the next few years, but now the chances that this should happen per schedule are becoming slim, defense officials stated, adding that this is one of the main reasons that pushed India to widen the list of countries it will import arms from.
The days where Russia and the United States dominated the arms market and related technology is nearing an end, former senior Pentagon official Bill Greenwalt said. But the alternatives are "still a work in progress."
Greenwalt said New Delhi could grow frustrated with the high US export and tech-sharing provisions.
"I expect India will pursue cooperation with the West with those countries that can transfer technology ... with the least amount of limitations on their use," he said.
Back in April, Joe Biden's top economic advisor said the US administration has "warned" India against aligning itself with Russia, as US officials said they have been disappointed with India's approach to the Ukraine situation. The US warned India, saying that the consequences of a "more explicit strategic alignment" with Russia would be "significant and long-term."
The United States will remain cautious regarding what it shares with India even if it moved away from Russia over the following decades, a Rand Corporation defense analyst said.
"The U.S. will still have suspicions about how their systems are being used and how that might help the Russians in some sort of way, because of that close India-Russia partnership," Derek Grossman said.
"India is going to be opportunistic in this situation and accept whatever the U.S. is willing to offer. But I don’t think they are willing to give up what they have with Russia."
So far, India has refused to comply with Western sanctions against Russia, refusing to vote at the United Nations to condemn the operation and even agreeing to purchase Russian oil at a discount.