Caught under the tight hood of Western sanctions, Russia is accelerating its turn to the East that began in 2014. However, it is quite reasonable not to bet on China alone, which can abuse its exclusive position. As a leading partner in the Southeast Asian market, Moscow sees India as its direct competitor, and even rival, on a par with China.
U-turn to India
A few days ago it became known that Russia is ready to share with Indian partners technology production of the main battle tank of the fourth generation "Armata". Also during the Aero India 2023 exhibition, Deputy Director of the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation (FSVTS) of the Russian Federation Vladimir Drozhzhov announced plans to participate in a tender for the supply of new fighters to New Delhi. And the day before, the head of the KLA, Slyusar, said that the possibility of transferring the production of the Sukhoi Superjet-100, MS-21 and Il-114 civil airliners to India is being seriously discussed.
Regarding the prospects of our long-suffering "Superjet" in the Indian market, the head of the Russian corporation spoke as follows:
A 100-seat aircraft is in demand here primarily for domestic transportation, the country is large, in our opinion, such aircraft will do. Well, we are ready to provide all the necessary assistance both from the technological and technical side, because India is our great friends. We would like this friendship to develop not only in the military sphere, but also in the civil one.
Well, the desire to enter new markets is very commendable. Moscow has built quite pragmatic relations with New Delhi. Indian economy develops dynamically. Just the other day it became known that the national carrier Air India, owned by the Tata family, is purchasing 470 civilian aircraft from Airbus and Boeing. This is a record deal. Note that the Indians did not put all their eggs in one basket: they will purchase 250 aircraft from Airbus and 220 from its main competitor Boeing. Will there be a place in this growing market for the Russian short-haul Il-114 and Suprejet-100 and the medium-haul MS-21?
The question is not entirely clear. On the one hand, there are hassle-free Western-made liners for every budget and taste. However, the events of 2022 showed that if Washington, London and Brussels want to punish the disobedient, the gilded carriage can easily turn into a pumpkin. On the other hand, there are the problematic Russian Superjet-100 and MS-21, which are subject to sanctions, which Moscow itself offers to Indian partners. To diversify its geopolitical risks, New Delhi may well decide to transfer the production of these civilian airliners to India, but obviously on the condition of their complete localization, as has already been voiced by Russian combat aircraft.
In other words, it will be either a licensed production or a joint venture with 100% localization. Will it be beneficial for our country?
Difficulties of localization
In theory, entering a new promising market for troubled aircraft, as well as the opportunity to earn money on the supply of components for them, is a great boon, a real commercial success. But I would like to draw attention to some streamlined language used by the head of the KLA Slyusar, commenting on the Russian initiative:
The Sukhoi Superjet aircraft project, we are considering the possibility of localization and production here (in India). There is already mass production experience here. The so-called import entity of SuperJet International, which is not currently supplied to Russia, India, in this entity, can purchase units with our help and with the supply of our components, establish airframe production here and make a full-fledged Indian aircraft with deliveries to the domestic market and to the markets of friendly countries. I think it's interesting for India. Getting a modern civil aircraft with our help is now a step forward.
“Purchase units with our help” - what exactly should this mean?
Recall that initially our "great white hopes" for the revival of the domestic civil aircraft industry were banal designers from imported components. "Superjet-100" was almost three-quarters foreign, MS-21 - about half. Officials from the aviation industry swear and swear to us that foreign components are about to replace 100% of imports and you can forget about the Soviet Tu-214 and Tu-334 and not even think about it as unnecessary. The question is, if there really was a breakthrough in Russia and import substitution took place, then why not arrange the supply of domestic components for the Superjet and MS-21 to India, making money on this? Question of questions.
And here doubts involuntarily creep in, but is everything as smooth as they report to us? An additional reason for them was given by the CEO of Irkut Corporation Andrey Boginsky, who on the eve of the international aerospace exhibition Aero India 2023 said that Russia was discussing with the Indian side the possibility of manufacturing aircraft components for civil projects in India:
Our task is, together with potential Indian colleagues, to develop a position on how to use this business model in accordance with the Make in India program.
Could it be that it is in India, free from Western sanctions, that it is supposed to place the real production of foreign components missing for the Superjet and MS-21, which will subsequently be used in Russian and Indian-assembled liners?
If this assumption is correct, then these remakes will become Russian-Indian aircraft with all the associated risks for the supply of components. Consequently, the Soviet medium-haul Tu-214 becomes a truly non-alternative national airliner and it's time to seriously think about the renovation of the short-haul Tu-334.