Russia’s war in Ukraine has disrupted vital defence supplies to one of its biggest customers: India. The Indian Air Force (IAF) has recently revealed that Russia is unable to meet its arms delivery commitments because of the war, putting India’s military modernisation and readiness at risk.
India has been relying on Russia for most of its defence equipment for decades, since the Soviet era. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Russia accounted for $8.5 billion of the $18.3 billion India has spent on arms imports since 2017. Some of the major deals include the S-400 Triumf air defence system units, which India bought in 2018 for $5.4 billion; and the Su-30MKI and MiG-29 fighter jets, which form the backbone of India’s air force.
However, these supplies have been affected by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, which triggered international sanctions and condemnation from many countries, including India. The IAF statement was made to a parliamentary committee, which published it on its website on Tuesday. An IAF representative told the panel that Russia had planned a “major delivery” this year that will not take place.
The report does not specify what this delivery was supposed to be, but it could be related to either the S-400 system or the fighter jets. Three of these systems have been delivered and two more are awaited. The IAF also depends on Russia for spares for its Su-30MKI and MiG-29 fighter jets.
The delay or cancellation of these deliveries could have serious implications for India’s defence capabilities and preparedness, especially at a time when it faces security challenges from both China and Pakistan along its borders. The S-400 system is considered one of the most advanced air defence systems in the world, capable of intercepting and destroying incoming missiles and aircraft at long ranges. Fighter jets are also crucial for maintaining air superiority and deterrence against potential adversaries.
The IAF also informed the parliamentary panel that due to these supply disruptions caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine, it had slashed its projected capital expenditure on modernisation for the financial year ending March 31, 2024 by nearly a third compared to the previous fiscal year. The air force had projected capital expenditure of 853 billion rupees ($10.38 billion) for fiscal 2022-23 and cut it to 588 billion rupees ($7.15 billion) in the national budget presented in February.
This indicates that India may have to look for alternative sources of defence equipment or scale down its modernisation plans due to Russia’s inability to deliver on its commitments.
Over the past two decades, India has sought to diversify its defence suppliers and reduce
its dependence on Moscow by looking westward towards France, the United States and Israel.
It has also tried to boost its domestic defence industry by encouraging private-sector participation and joint ventures with foreign companies. However, these efforts have not been enough to meet India’s growing demand for advanced weapons and technology.
India still needs Russia as a reliable partner in defence cooperation, but Russia’s war in Ukraine has put that partnership under strain. India may have to rethink its strategy and priorities in light of this new reality.