New Delhi: The commander-in-chief of the Russian Land Forces, General Alexei Fedorovich Maslov, heading a tri-services delegation, will commence a five-day visit to India from Monday in a visit that is aimed at enhancing defence ties between the two countries. The visit also comes at a time when a number of spats would appear to bedevill relations between these two old-time allies.
Gen Maslov's will be the first visit to the country by a Russian Army chief after a gap of almost eight years. So far, Russia has been India's largest supplier of military equipment, and the two countries are also involved in a number of high-profile joint projects, such as the world's only supersonic cruise missile, Brahmos. Gen Maslov's visit would be aimed at taking the relationship further, as well as ironing out existing problems.
The visit of the Russian delegation comes on the heels of a visit to Moscow by the defence secretary Shekhar Dutt and secretary, defence (finance), VK Misra, to discuss Russian problems with existing contracts related to the INS Vikramaditya (ex-Adm Gorshkov) and an order for Su-30 MKI's, which the Russians now say they are unable to deliver under existing price escalation clauses.
Gen Maslov's visit also comes ahead of a follow-on joint exercise between the two armies, to be conducted in Russia later on in the year. The last such exercise was conducted by the two forces in India in 2005.
During his visit, Gen Maslov is expected to meet the chief of the army staff, General JJ Singh, the chief of the naval staff, Admiral Sureesh Mehta, chief of the air staff, Air Chief Marshal, FH Major, the defence secretary, Shekhar Dutt and other senior defence officials. He is also likely to visit some important institutions of the Indian armed forces.
Gen Maslov's visit also comes in the backdrop of a large order that the Indian Army may place with Russia for an additional lot of 350 upgraded T-90S tanks. Equipped with French night vision devices, these tanks will arm an entire armoured division of the Army. The deal is expected to cost $300 million.
The Russian delegation, comprising of top officials from the Russian Army, Navy, Air Force, ministry of defence and armament export agencies would also seek further movement on another significant deal pertaining to the joint development of a multi-role transport aircraft (MRTA).
With the Indian armed forces already placing an order for six C-130J Hercules transport aircraft with American arms major, Lockheed Martin, and likely to place an order for another half dozen more, the MRTA deal assumes particular significance for the Russians. The Indian Air Force is looking at upgrading and replacing its ageing fleet of An-32 'Sutlej' and Il-76 'Gajraj' planes, which form the backbone of its transport command.