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Cabinet okays purchase of Russian aircraft, frigates

The Union Cabinet has approved the acquisition of aircraft and submarines from Russia, Defence Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav told the combined commanders conference of the army, the navy and the air force in New Delhi.

Though he did not specify the number of submarines, it is understood that two submarines are to be imported and two are to be built indigenously.

A contract for the purchase is likely to be finalised during the first meeting of the Indo-Russian Joint Working Group in Moscow next month.

Reports say the new submarines have special features for noise reduction, are driven by a powerful electric power plant, and will have an enhanced range of 65,000 miles.

Yadav, however, ruled out the purchase of the 40,000 tonne Kiev class aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov as a replacement for the now-retired INS Vikrant.

The Russian media had reported that India was expected to buy two 887 design submarines, each costing $ 800 million, and four Illyusin IL-78 aircraft.

There has been no confirmation or denial (about the number) from New Delhi.

The mid-air refueller IL-78s would enhance the strike range of India's newly-acquired Sukhoi-30 multirole fighters to more than 5,000 kilometres.

The Russian media had also reported that an IL-78 demonstration was viewed by Air Marshal A Y Tipnis, vice-chief of the air staff, at a Russian air force base near Moscow. It said India was taking 'keen interest' in top-of-the-line S-300 PMU-1 and Tunguska anti- missile air defence systems.

During Yadav's visit to Russia earlier this month, Moscow is also reported to have offered its still-under-development advanced jet trainer MIG-AT to India. Earlier, India had short-listed the British Hawk and the French Alpha Jet.

Russia is also retrofitting 125 MIG-21 BIS warplanes for the Indian Air Force at an estimated cost of Rs 12 billion. Two prototypes are under upgradation now. The rest of the planes will be retrofitted in India.

Last year, India had signed the Rs 63 billion Sukhoi-30 deal -- its biggest-ever arms deal -- with Russia for the outright purchase of 40 state-of-the-art warplanes.

India is said to be one of the biggest buyers of Russian weapon systems. The average weapons trade between the two is believed to be around $ 800 million annually.

Russia's military-technical co-operation with India until 2000 is valued at between $ 8 billion to $ 10 billion. The agreement was signed in December 1994 during Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's visit to Delhi.

The high point of Yadav's visit to Russia was the agreement to extend by a decade, up to 2010, their military- technical co-operation. Moscow and Delhi has set up a JWG for the purpose.

Russia has categorically stated that the perspectives of Indo-Russian co-operation in the 21st century have already been defined and 'all interests of India and Russia have been taken into account' in the military-technical co-operation agreement.


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