After IAF's strike on Balakot, Centre turns to Russia to boost ammo power

Moscow is cooperating to deliver India’s orders on urgent priority
In Kargil, in 1999, the operations to evict Pakistani infiltrators found the military short of artillery ammunition and precision-guided aircraft bombs. Today, after the Indian Air Force’s (IAF’s) strike on Balakot on February 26 and retaliation the next day by Pakistani fighters, the military finds itself badly short of air defence missiles and surface-to-surface rockets.

In 1999, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) obtained bombs and ammunition from Israel on an emergency basis. This time round, the MoD has asked Russia to urgently replenish India’s firepower.

India’s emergency requests on Russia include launchers and missiles for the Igla-S “very short range air defence system” (VSHORADS), rockets for Smerch multi-barrel, surface-to-surface rocket launchers and Mango armour-piercing ammunition for India’s fleet of T-90 tanks, say sources in New Delhi and Moscow.

The Army has told the MoD restocking up is essential in case the current truce with Pakistan breaks down, or there is another terrorist strike like the Valentine Day suicide bombing of a Central Reserve Police Force convoy that killed 40 troopers. While that led to a limited IAF strike on a Jaish-e-Mohammed training camp in Balakot, inside Pakistan, another terrorist provocation would demand heavier Indian retaliation.

While the Igla-S is a defensive weapon, the requests for SMERCH rockets and Mango armour-piercing ammunition indicates the military is preparing for ground offensives as well.

 
Moscow is cooperating to deliver India’s orders on urgent priority. Russian negotiating teams, which have already engaged in discussions with the MoD, will be travelling shortly to New Delhi with techno-commercial offers for meeting Indian demands.

Business Standard learns the emergency sourcing from Moscow will be paid for under financial powers delegated to the vice chiefs of the three services. Last November, the MoD increased the vice chiefs’ financial powers to Rs 500 crore for each transaction. The current purchases would involve multiple transactions, but the exact costs are still being negotiated with the Russians.

Contacted for confirmation, the Indian MoD responded, “Urgent purchases are necessitated at times based on emerging situations and these cannot be shared as they can compromise tactical and operational level planning.”

Given the threat from Pakistani fighters, which attacked Indian military installations in numbers on February 27 and shot down an Indian MiG-21 Bison, the most significant purchase is the Igla-S VSHORADS. This portable air defence system is carried and operated by a three-man crew and fires missiles to shoot down enemy fighters at ranges of up to eight kilometres.

Last November, the MoD announced it had selected the Igla-S in the hotly contested VSHORADS tender for 5,175 missiles and 800 launchers for all three services. An MoD committee has been negotiating costs with Rosoboronexport (RoE), Russia’s defence export body, but a contract has not been finalised.

Other vendors in the VSHORADS contest, particularly Swedish firm Saab, are hotly contesting the selection of the Igla-S, which they allege failed user trials. However, with the Igla-S now meeting emergency Indian requirements, the larger VSHORADS tender seems settled in ROE’s favour.

Moscow is obtaining further goodwill by offering to refurbish the army’s obsolescent Igla-M launchers to enable them to launch the far more capable Igla-S missiles.