Procurement: February 18, 2004

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For decades, India has purchased most (currently, about 70 percent) of its weapons from Russia. Much of the remainder is manufactured by Indian firms. But there is currently a major struggle within the Indian armed forces over the wisdom of getting some weapons and equipment from non-Russian foreign suppliers. In 1986, $1.33 worth of 155mm artillery systems were bought from Sweden. This sale was notable for the bribery scandal that accompanied it. But in this case, non-Russian weapons were sought by some Indian officers because of the sorry track record of the Russian equipment. But to most Indian officers, the Russian stuff is good enough, particularly considering that Pakistan, India's most powerful neighbor and long time foe, is outnumbered and also has lots of Russian and Chinese equipment. When it comes to artillery, Pakistan has a large variety of different types (and six different calibers), while India standardized on high quality (and longer range) 155mm guns, and a much better fire control system. India feels confident that with it's superior Western guns, it will always have the edge on Pakistan, or anyone else. 

India is currently evaluating Swedish, Israeli and South African guns for another $640 million purchase. The Russians have responded by offering high tech guided 155mm shells, which India has purchased and had some success with. Russia offers better prices on more conventional 155mm shells, but India prefers to manufacture its own. Russia is also offering 155mm artillery, but India does not consider these guns competitive with Western weapons. 

Another area where the India prefers not to deal with the Russians is customer service. Spare parts for Russian weapons became a problem after the Soviet Union collapsed and many Russian arms plants were shut down for lack of business. In the West, there is a long tradition of good customer service, and going the extra mile when weapons and equipment, bought years ago, encounters problems. The Russians are still playing catch up in this department. 

As a result of all these problems, the Russians are under a lot of pressure to deliver higher quality (more reliable) weapons, and provide Western quality customer service. If the Russians are not able to do this with their recent sales to India, there are plenty of Indian officers ready, and very willing, to switch to Western suppliers. The only angle the Russians can play at that point is to sell more weapons designs and production technology to India. This means that the Russians only collect royalties. The Indians like these deals, because Indian industry has an easier building the simpler Russian weapons. But if the quality gap with Western weapons continues to widen, even licensing Russian technology will look like a bad deal.

 


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