Tank Biathlon, Typhoon, and the Vicissitudes of DIY Procurement

India’s first indigenous nuclear submarine, the Arihant, launched in 2009, has brought its reactor online and is to start sea trials. It may seem a long time to wait, but such is the way of India’s defence programs. Arihant itself is likely to be a stepping stone to more advanced designs. It is designed with strategic functions in mind, with twelve intermediate range ballistic missile tubes. The K4 SLBM is slated for testing. While they wait, India is reportedly negotiating to lease a second Russian Akula II class attack submarine.

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Meanwhile, more delays are likely to hit Vikrant, India’s first indigenously-built aircraft carrier. With an estimated in-service date already pushed back by four years to 2018, navy sources now say that it will not have completed sea trials until 2020. While it is planned to launch August 12th, Vikrant as yet has none of its propulsion systems installed, and piping will be laid while the carrier is tied alongside.

Vikramaditya

Vikramaditya

These delays are partially attributed to the difficulty of procuring needed parts from abroad and the five-year delay and vast cost overruns experienced with the Vikramaditya, the rebuilt Russian carrier formerly named Admiral Gorshkov. India plans to build up to two more carriers of a larger design. All future Indian carriers will carry the MiG-29K Fulcrum, and notionally a naval variant of the HAL Tejas. The latter is a small, locally-developed fighter, which took over two decades to achieve operational capability.

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There are a number of fighter competitions coming up in the Persian Gulf. Bahrain has expressed an early preference for the Eurofighter, citing the advantages of standardising with Saudi Arabia, which is in the process of taking delivery. As further competitions develop in Kuwait, the UAE and Qatar, it will be interesting to see whether that idea gains ground. If so, it would be a major boon to a beleaguered program. Negotiations are in progress for a 60-aircraft order for the UAE, while Saudi Arabia, the ultimate splurger of the region, may buy between 48 and 72 additional aircraft.

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Russia has invented a new “sporting event”- the tank biathlon– and has got agreements from the United States, Germany, Italy and a few eastern states to send teams. While not substantively different than other standing tank competition, the East-West dynamic does add an element of interest. Oddly, the announced purpose of the games is to showcase the quality of Russian equipment against its Western equivalents, and yet the Russians are to limit themselves to Cold War vintage T-72s.

Meanwhile, Russia is set to take delivery of its first T-50 stealth fighter, which will start military flight testing before the end of the year, with operational status anticipated in 2016.

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