Thursday, 3 September 2015

India’s light combat helicopter completes crucial trials

 By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 4th Sept 15

Since April 13, 1984, when the first Indian soldiers deployed along the Siachen Glacier, they have assaulted Pakistani picquets and beaten back waves of attacks without any direct fire support from heavy weapons. All they had was what they could carry on their backs.

Even whilst incredibly capturing the 21,153 feet high Qaid Post in May 1987, Param Vir Chakra winner, Naib Subedar Bana Singh, had only indirect fire support from artillery guns many kilometres away.

This will soon change. Last week, for the first time ever, an attack helicopter landed at a forward picquet in Siachen. The indigenous Light Combat Helicopter (LCH), designed and built by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), performed several such landings as a part of its “hot and high” trials in Ladakh.

In “hot and high” conditions, a helicopter operates in summertime temperatures at extreme altitudes of over 15,000 feet. In these conditions, oxygen in the air is depleted not just by the altitude, but also by the expansion of air due to high temperatures of 13-27 degrees Centigrade. This combination of conditions taxes the helicopter’s engine to the maximum.

In February, the LCH had surmounted different challenges in “cold weather flight trials” in Ladakh. In those, the LCH was “soaked” overnight in winter temperatures of minus 20 degrees Centigrade, and then required to start up on internal batteries and get airborne. Operating from a 15,000-feet-high helipad, the LCH reached altitudes of over 21,000 feet.

In June, the helicopter then faced “hot weather flight trials” around Jodhpur, soaking up desert temperatures of 40-50 degrees Centigrade, when the temperatures inside the cabin approach 60 degrees Centigrade.

“The flight trials at Leh have established hover performance and low speed handling characteristics of the helicopter under extreme weather conditions at different altitudes (3200 to 4800 m). During the trials, the helicopter and systems performed satisfactorily”, says T Suvarna Raju, the HAL chief.

The LCH is specially built to operate above 20,000 feet. HAL and French engine-maker, Turbomeca specially designed an engine called the Shakti for the LCH, which is optimised for extreme altitudes. This allows the LCH to fire its direct weapons --- a rapid-firing turret gun, rockets and missiles --- to support soldiers in battle at altitudes where the thin air does not allow humans to carry heavy weaponry.

An impressed army has already committed to ordering 114 helicopters, and the air force another 65, as soon as the flight-test programme is completed. This is being carried out by three LCH prototypes, the newest of which underwent the recent trials.

“The performance and handling qualities of the helicopter have been established for basic configuration (with electro-optical pod, rocket launchers, turret gun and air-to-air missile launchers)… Further development activities are under progress and the weapon firing trials are planned during in the middle of 2016”, says an HAL release.

The LCH has been engineered, ground-up, for combat. It is heavily armoured to protect its two pilots from enemy fire, and has a “stealthy” fuselage that is hard to detect with radar. A crash-resistant landing gear enables pilots to survive even when the LCH impacts the ground at 10 metres/second. Its state-of-the-art, all-digital cockpit has systems that enable pilots to fly and fight the LCH at night.

HAL has moved progressively in developing the LCH. The flying platform evolved from the successful Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH), which has proved itself with the army and air force. The Shakti engine powers both helicopters and they have similar main rotors, tail rotors, and gearboxes.

The LCH is designed primarily for high-altitude operations, but it is equally lethal on the mechanised battlefield. In tank battles on the plains of Rajasthan, Punjab and Jammu, the LCH can destroy enemy tanks with the indigenous HELINA guided missiles at ranges of up to 7 kilometres.

Besides its fleet of LCHs, India’s military will also operate 22 Apache AH-64E attack helicopters, the purchase of which is currently being negotiated. The Apache will replace the air force’s ageing Russian Mi-35 helicopters.

Army prepares for crucial trials as chief insists on indigenous Excalibur rifle

The DRDO carbine, which is likely to be trial evaluated by the army soon

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 3rd Sept 2015

On Tuesday, in a signal of army chief General Dalbir Singh’s determination to arm his soldiers with a “Made in India” rifle, his infantry chief visited an Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) facility near Kolkata that is fabricating a batch of 200 Excalibur rifles. The army will formally trial evaluate these later this year.

With Gen Dalbir Singh throwing his weight behind the Excalibur, the army has begun informal trials on the prototype rifles, to eliminate any chance of failing the formal trials when they are held. So rigorous are the army’s trials that four of the world’s best rifles --- Italian company Beretta’s ARX-160; the American Colt Combat Rifle; Israel Weapon Industries ACE-1, and the Czech Republic’s CA-805 BREN --- failed to pass a three-year-long evaluation.

On his visit to Rifle Factory, Ishapore (RFI) on Tuesday, Lieutenant General Sanjay Kulkarni, the infantry director general, put the prototype Excalibur through the “water” and “mud” tests, in which the rifle is fired after being fully immersed in those substances. The Excalibur handily passed these tests, which all four foreign rifles had failed to clear.

Kulkarni is also learned to have suggested certain ergonomic changes, which would make the Excalibur more comfortable for jawans to carry and to fire.

The OFB has confirmed to Business Standard that the army has pulled out all stops to institutionally oversee the project, something that the navy has often done but is unprecedented for the army. A number of army shooters are stationed at Ishapore where they carry out extensive test firing daily.

If the Excalibur performs well in trials, the OFB will mass-produce it to equip more than half the army’s 12 lakh soldiers. With the Excalibur priced at about Rs 60,000 each, 6 lakh rifles would cost about Rs 3,000 crore, half the cost of equipping the army with foreign rifles.

The OFB says the Excalibur would not need a new production line. It will be built on the INSAS production line that is still active, building the older rifle for central armed police forces (CAPFs) and paramilitary forces (PMFs).

However it is prestige, not economics, which has made the army chief throw his weight behind the Excalibur. American infantrymen carry the US-made M-16 rifle as their basic weapon; Russians carry the Russian AK-74M; and China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has indigenously built its new QBZ-95 rifle. Now the Indian Army is gearing up to equip its jawans with the Excalibur.

This will require the Excalibur to overcome the negative legacy of its predecessor, the INSAS (an acronym for Indian Small Arms System). The army has criticised the INSAS rifle, complaining that its components fracture under difficult field conditions, its barrel gets deformed, and its modern, see-through magazine (made of polycarbonate material) frequently develops cracks.

Another complaint arose when the INSAS was used in counter-militancy operations in Kashmir and the northeast. The army complained that the lighter, 5.56 mm INSAS was not killing militants, as the 7.62 mm AK-47 rifle was with its heavier bullet. In fact, the army had itself demanded a 5.56 mm INSAS rifle, in line with a NATO philosophy that wounding an enemy soldier was better than killing him, since that tied down additional soldiers in evacuating the casualty.

Furthermore, the Excalibur incorporates a “direct gas-tapping angle”, which reduces its recoil, or the “jump” when it is fired. The rifle has a foldable butt for easy carriage, and a modern “Picatinny rail” on the barrel --- a standardized bracket for mounting telescopic sights, night vision sights, laser aiming modules, bipods or bayonets.

Tushar Tripathi, the OFB’s Director, Weapons, says the Excalibur fires in two settings: either single shot or automatic, in which bullets stream out of the rifle for as long as the trigger is pressed and there is ammunition in the magazine. This abandons the INSAS’ feature of a “three-round burst”, which complicated the design.

The OFB is also providing holographic and laser sights with the Excalibur for firing at night. Bharat Electronics Ltd is currently developing these.

Kulkarni followed up his Tuesday visit to Ishapore with a visit on Wednesday to the Armament R&D Establishment (ARDE) in Pune, the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) laboratory that has developed the Excalibur, as also the INSAS.

With the rifle tender already scrapped, the army is also scuttling the procurement of a carbine. This tender, floated in 2010, asked for 44,618 close quarter battle (CQB) carbines, with another 1,20,000 being built by OFB. However, after three years of trials that concluded in 2013, the army controversially ruled that only the Israeli carbine met its requirements, leading to protests from the other vendors.

Now OFB has been asked to manufacture 100 carbines, to the design evolved by ARDE, for trials later this year. 

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Russia still has a role

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 1st Sept 15

During my visit to Russia last week (due disclosure: at the invitation of Rostec, the umbrella agency that oversees Russia’s high-technology industry), I was struck by the changes from the days of the Soviet Union, as also by important similarities. The drab, socialist Moscow of yore has been replaced by a glittering city, peopled by purposeful men in sharp suits and chic women in impossibly high heels. The double-headed eagle of Tsarist Russia (itself drawn from the Byzantine Empire) is clawing itself back into prominence, replacing the hammer and sickle at prominent places, most notably the Kremlin. Even so, Russia is discernibly stressed by rock-bottom global oil prices, compounded by western sanctions imposed after the intervention in Ukraine and the annexation of the Crimea. Nowhere is the strain more evident than in the defence industry. Moscow can no longer afford an ambitious $650 billion defence modernisation plan, particularly since --- unlike western defence industries that remain commercially viable by producing both weaponry and civilian products --- Russia’s defence industry serves only military buyers. Boeing and Airbus derive 80 per cent of their revenue from commercially successful civil airliners; in contrast, Sukhoi is struggling to sell its Superjet 100 outside Russia.

What does this mean for New Delhi, and what options does this create for India? In the decade after 1989, as Russia’s military spending plummeted to one-thirtieth the 1989 figure, three-quarters of the Soviet Union’s famed military design bureaus went kaput, putting a million Russian scientists on the streets. With Russian soldiers begging in uniform on Moscow’s streets, the bankrupt state cancelled 1,149 individual R&D projects. Beijing swooped in, hiring hundreds of scientists who catalyzed the birth of China’s now formidable defence industry. New Delhi, in contrast, provided Moscow life support, ordering a generation of weaponry including Sukhoi-30MKI and MiG-29K fighters, T-90 tanks, Talwar-class frigates and other procurements too numerous to recount.

India learnt hard lessons from those purchases, many involving transfer of technology (ToT) to build Russian weaponry in India. Technology sometimes remained undelivered (e.g. the T-90 tank), and India could not enforce flawed contracts drawn up by ill-qualified lawyers and bureaucrats. Spare parts, suddenly manufactured not in the Soviet Union but in successor countries, became New Delhi’s problem. India had bought equipment without providing for maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) and mid-life upgrades (MLU), even though, over the multi-decade service lifespan of a military platform, MRO and MLU tots up to four-eight times the acquisition cost. Consequently, we are still sending Kilo-class submarines to Russia for overhaul.

So should New Delhi turn away from a Russia in economic distress, or do there remain opportunities for us? Unlike in the 1990s, India has many more alternatives: the United States is today eager to bolster India as an emerging counter-balance to China. US Ambassador Richard Verma, at a recent speech in Delhi endorsed India as a “leading power” instead of a “balancing power”. Moscow’s arms prices, once well below western norms, have risen significantly, making Russian weaponry only slightly cheaper than European and American arms. This advantage, many say is negated by lower Russian serviceability rates.

Even so, the answer can only be “Stay tuned to Moscow!” Although details remain outside the public eye, Russia assists India with technologies that the western bloc is unwilling to. One example is nuclear powered submarines. From 1988 to 1991, the Soviet Union leased India the nuclear powered attack submarine, INS Chakra, and helped create the building blocks, including design assistance, that has evolved into a successful Indian nuclear submarine, INS Arihant. Since 2012, a second Russian nuclear attack submarine (SSN) has been with the Indian Navy on a ten-year lease. India hopes to develop a line of SSNs and Russian assistance could be crucial. Well-informed US scholar, Ashley Tellis, says Washington would not even consider sharing SSN technology with anyone.

In fact, the United States, the global emperor of defence technology, has opened the technology door to India only a crack. Over the last five years, over-the-counter sales to India of $10 billion worth of US defence equipment makes for happy reading in Washington. Far less impressive, though, has been progress in the Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI) that seeks to transform the “buyer-seller relationship” into a more equal one based on co-development and co-production of military platforms. A “joint working group” on aircraft carrier technology and on co-developing jet engines has reported no progress. Like French company, Snecma, earlier, US engine-makers are reluctant to share the costly technologies for materials that go into jet engines’ “combustion chamber”, which must withstand temperatures of up to 2,100 degrees. In contrast, Moscow has recently offered to co-develop with India a highly advanced engine for the “fifth generation fighter aircraft”. Russian co-development would not only provide the Defence R&D Organisation a much-needed breakthrough, but allow New Delhi to signal that it has multiple options. Cultivating Moscow has not just intrinsic benefits; it also induces Paris and Washington not to drag their feet.

Another reason to service the Moscow connection is to prevent a catastrophic Russian turn towards Beijing and Islamabad. Russia’s experience with China in the 1990s, when Beijing apparently modified the Sukhoi-27 fighter into the “indigenous” J-11B, makes Moscow extremely wary of arms sales to China. But lured by China’s massive market size and with few other options, Russia may well yield to China. It would be useful to let Moscow know New Delhi remains a buyer.

Servicing the Moscow connection would allow New Delhi to develop a structured multilateralism for defence acquisition. Such a defence procurement policy flows naturally from a multi-aligned foreign policy, in which each of India’s external relationships is leveraged by the combined weight of all the others.  

The mistakes of the 1990s and early 2000s must be guarded against. India’s aim for every acquisition must be clear and spelt out unmistakeably: first, obtaining the crucial technologies for life-cycle support, including MRO, so that India’s military is assured of service support and industry can benefit from follow-on service contracts that are worth four-eight times the purchase price. Second, a contract cannot be awarded just on the basis of L-1 (lowest price); instead, a key determinant must be the technology the vendor is willing to transfer. Such an approach to acquisition would require political courage in the ministry and the expertise to evaluate technology in various forms.

Over the years, global arms vendors, together with New Delhi, have developed a bizarre ritual in which they ceremonially stone the “buyer-seller relationship” devil, and then walk back to the table and sign some more purchase contracts. Changing this would require a new mind set within government, and as many players as possible on the board, including Moscow. 

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Broadsword checks out the AK-105 in Russia


A ten-round shoot at electronic, man-sized targets at a range of 150 metres, with the AK-105 in standing, unsupported position. Each time a target is hit, it goes down... and then comes up again in a couple of seconds.

Score: Nine hits out of ten. 

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Khemkas key to deciding between HAL & Reliance in chopper contract

By Ajai Shukla
Kazan, Russia
Business Standard, 29th Aug 15

The Khemka’s of the Sun Group will be key arbiters in the billion-dollar decision on whether Russian Helicopters would partner Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), or Anil Ambani’s Reliance Group, in building 197 Kamov-226T reconnaissance and observation helicopters in India.

Nand Khemka, whose Sun Group has done successful business in Russia for decades is close to Moscow’s power centres, including President Vladimir Putin. He is a member of the Russian prime minister’s “Foreign Investment Advisory Council”. His son, Shiv Khemka, is on the board of Russian Helicopters.

Business Standard learns that Shiv Khemka, who is advising Russian Helicopters on this proposal, has assembled a team of experienced Indian experts in helicopter manufacture. They are evaluating whether it would be better to go with HAL’s tried and tested record of working with Russia, or with Ambani’s new company, Reliance Defence and Aerospace (RDA), which has no experience, but enjoys the advantages of the private sector.

Contacted for comments about the role played by Sun Group, Russian Helicopters declined to comment, but did not deny its involvement.

Recent media reports in the Economic Times and Times of India have reported that Russian Helicopters --- an umbrella corporation that includes all Russian helicopter building companies --- has chosen Anil Ambani’s Reliance Group as its partner. In fact, no such decision has been taken.

Russian Helicopters has valid memoranda of understanding (MoUs) with both Indian entities. The MoU with HAL undertakes to partner the Indian aerospace monopoly in an earlier Indian enquiry for vendors to build 197 light helicopters in the “Buy & Make (Indian)” category. This required Indian vendors to bid, supported by a foreign technology partner.

Simultaneously, Russian Helicopters signed a generic MoU with Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence and Aerospace, under which the Reliance Group is pursuing most of its defence ventures. This MoU is not directed towards any specific contract, but speaks of broad-ranging cooperation in helicopter building.

The Reliance MoU with Russian Helicopters is much like the shipbuilding MoUs that Anil Ambani’s newly acquired Pipavav Shipyard has signed with Russian shipbuilders. Defence industry experts point out that, while such MoUs are useful in generating a speculative media buzz, there is no certainty they would culminate in actual defence contracts.

Even as Russian Helicopters evaluates its options, advised by Sun Group experts, decision-makers in Moscow say New Delhi will have the final word on the Indian partner. Says Sergey Chemezov, Rostec CEO, who oversees Russia’s high-technology industry and is a close associate of President Putin: “We expressed our commitment to work with either of two companies – Reliance of Mr Ambani and HAL, and it is up to the Indian government to decide who to grant this project, who they feel is better suited for this. For us this is no different, we could work with either.”

Vadim Ligay, the deputy chief of Russian Helicopters says, while the contract is still being negotiated, “On behalf of Rostec, Russian Helicopters and Russia I believe we are ready to work with any company that will be chosen by the Indian side.”

Individuals close to the Russian evaluation indicate they are inclined towards HAL. They visualise the Bangalore-based company responsible only for assembly and final integration of the Kamov-226T, while a range of carefully chosen private sector Indian companies, identified as Tier-1 and Tier-2 suppliers, would build key components like the transmission, rotors, and cockpit. HAL would assemble these into a helicopter.

This would ease the path for HAL, which is already awash with Indian military orders for more than 200 indigenous helicopters, including the Dhruv, the Light Combat Helicopter and the Indian rival to the Kamov-226T, the Light Utility Helicopter.

Ligay of Russian Helicopters confirms that the Kamov-226T contract would include a provision for offsets, in addition to the “Make in India” aspect.

For now, the Reliance Group is powering ahead with its defence initiative. On Friday, the Maharashtra government handed over 290 acres for a facility that RDA intends to build near Nagpur.

The procurement of 197 light helicopters dates back to the late-2000s and was cancelled after Eurocopter was selected as winner in circumstances that were later deemed suspicious. It was re-tendered as a competitive contract, but then, in December 2014, at an Indo-Russian summit meeting in Delhi, President Putin asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and was granted the contract on an inter-governmental basis.

In May 2015, the apex Defence Acquisition Council approved the purchase on nomination of the Kamov-226T.

The Kamov-226T is a 3.5 tonne, two-pilot, light helicopter that is specially modified with a new engine for Indian requirements, primarily high-altitude operations along the Himalayan borders. Like all Kamov helicopters, the Kamov-226T has contra-rotating rotors --- or two main rotors that rotate in opposite directions. This does away with the need for a tail rotor, making the helicopter lighter, and improving manoeuvrability in the mountains.

Even as 197 Kamov-226T helicopters are built, HAL will build 187 Light Utility Helicopters. The IAF will, thereafter, be managing a two-type fleet of light helicopters, in addition to the existing Cheetah/Cheetal helicopters until they are phased out of service.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Moscow confused as IAF puts fifth generation fighter on back burner to buy Rafale

The T-50 is silhouetted against the sun while performing at MAKS 2015 in Moscow

By Ajai Shukla
Moscow, Russia
Business Standard, 28th Aug 2015

The on-going MAKS 2015 air show in Moscow features an impressive flying display by the Sukhoi T-50, the fifth-generation prototype fighter’s first public outing in two years. But even the rousing applause fails to mask the disappointment of Russian officials at the Indian Air Force’s (IAF’s) foot-dragging in co-developing the T-50 into a “fifth generation fighter aircraft” (FGFA) that the IAF will buy.

Well-informed sources in Moscow say the IAF vice chief has written a letter that effectively blocks the FGFA project. It criticises 27 different aspects of the FGFA, raising questions that must be answered before New Delhi and Moscow put $2.5 billion each into jointly developing the advanced fighter.

Business Standard also learns the IAF has vetoed a Russian offer to co-develop a fifth-generation engine for the FGFA. This is baffling to the Russians, given the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) long-standing attempts at joint engine development in order to end India’s expensive dependency on foreign vendors for aero engines. An internal DRDO estimation reckons that India will import aero engines worth Rs 3,50,000 crore over the next decade.

After the DRDO failed to develop the Kaveri engine to the level where it could power the indigenous Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), it strived to persuade French engine-maker, Snecma, to co-develop an engine. But Snecma declined to share key technologies, especially those relating to materials that can withstand the hellish temperatures created in the engine’s combustion chamber.

Nor has Washington agreed to share these technologies, even after President Barack Obama agreed during his January visit to New Delhi that a “joint working group” would explore US-India cooperation in engine technology.

DRDO and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) officials say the Russian offer of engine co-development fits well with the FGFA project itself, since the engine will power the same fighter. Currently, the Sukhoi T-50 is powered by the NPO Saturn AL-41F1, which only is a souped-up version of the AL-31FP engine that powers the Sukhoi-30MKI. A brand new, more powerful, engine is needed to let the FGFA supercruise, or fly at supersonic speeds while cruising without an afterburner. This is considered essential for a fifth-generation fighter.

Military aerospace experts worldwide believe that, given Moscow’s economic distress, the T-50 project badly needs India’s financial partnership to move forward. So far, the Russian Air Force has ordered only one squadron of T-50s (about 20 fighters).

Sergey Chemezov, who heads Rostec, the powerful Russian high-technology agency, downplays India’s delay. “As for the involvement with India, there is a certain delay, though this is not something that we (Russia) can be responsible for. On our end we can fully continue the development of the project as per our commitments,” Chemezov told Business Standard.

But even the defence ministry is questioning why the IAF is delaying a project it has earlier championed, and to which India has committed itself with an Indo-Russian inter-governmental agreement (IGA) and the expenditure of about $300 million in a “preliminary design phase”.

Critics of the IAF allege it is scuttling the long-term benefits of co-developing the FGFA in order to quickly buy the Rafale, preferably in numbers larger than the 36 fighters that the prime minister requested in Paris in April. A defence ministry official says that, in its eagerness to obtain the Rafale, the IAF has deliberately placed holds on every other aircraft procurement, including the FGFA, the Tejas and the plan to extend the Jaguar’s service life by fitting it with a new engine.

According to this official, the IAF aims to create the impression of a dangerous shortage of fighters, so that the government buys the Rafale quickly.

In another volte-face, the IAF has proposed that the FGFA not be co-developed, but limited numbers of the T-50 fighter be built in India.

If implemented, this would take India back to the 1970s and 1980s procurement model, which involved license-producing fighters like the MiG-21 and Jaguar in HAL without Indian involvement in designing or developing the aircraft.

In the 1990s and 2000s this was superseded by another procurement model that was first implemented in the Sukhoi-30MKI. In this, India specified modifications to the baseline Russian fighter, improving the Sukhoi-30 into the Sukhoi-30MKI through advanced avionics and a thrust-vectoring engine. The much-improved fighter continues to be licence-built in HAL Nashik.

However, by accepting the Sukhoi T-50 without improvements, the IAF would be reverting to the 1990s.

This would be a volte-face by the IAF. Three years ago, the IAF has specified 40-45 improvements that it deemed essential for the T-50, listing these out in a so-called “Tactical Technical Assignment”. This wish list included: 360-degree radar coverage by adding two sideward-looking radars; and more powerful engines;

The design and development needed for meeting the IAF’s requirements would constitute India’s work share of 25-30 per cent. If the IAF now demands the same fighter as the Russian Air Force, HAL’s work share would fall to zero. And the IAF would get a fighter designed for the Russian Air Force.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Report from Moscow: Battered by cheap oil, sanctions, Russia looks to increase defence exports

The Kamov-226 helicopter on display at the Moscow Air Show, MAKS 2015

By Ajai Shukla
Moscow, Russia
(Truncated version in Business Standard, 26th Aug 15)

We drive out of Moscow along the Kutuzovskiy Prospekt, the city’s grandest avenue, named after the legendary marshal who halted Napoleon in 1812. Marshal Kutuzov burned down Moscow in a scorched earth campaign, and then destroyed the formidable French Grande Armee (Grand Army) through a frozen, 2,000 kilometre retreat back to France. As President Vladimir Putin drives to work every day from his dacha (country retreat) in Novo-Ogaryovo, 30 kilometres outside Moscow, he passes a Triumphal Arch commemorating Kutuzov’s victory.

We also pass the Park Pobedy (Park of Victory) commemorating the Great Patriotic War against Hitler from 1941-45, in which 27 million Russians died --- the heaviest price any country paid in World War II. This blood-soaked history, a part of Russia’s school curriculum, engenders the stubborn patriotism that has boosted Putin’s foreign policy approval ratings to 85 per cent after he annexed the Crimea last year, and continues to back ethnic-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

However, Putin’s assertiveness has also invited damaging economic sanctions from the United States and the European Union, supported by allies like Australia. These have squeezed the important sectors that earn most of Russia’s money --- oil, banking services and defence exports. Battering the Russian economy further are plummeting oil prices, which are blocking Putin’s 2010 pledge to spend some 20 trillion roubles --- about $650 billion then --- to revamp his ageing arsenal.

After years of defence spending increases, Russia’s 2015 budget has hit a roadwall. Moscow has scaled back plans for buying 500 new warplanes in the five-year period from 2011-2016, as well as the new Armata tank and a host of warships. Earlier this year, authoritative Russian think tank, Centre for Analysis of Strategy and Technologies (CAST), forecast a Russian military spending crisis. “The modern Russian economy just does not generate enough resources to finance the current 2011-2020 rearmament program,” said the report.

That is why Russia --- traditionally secretive on matters relating to defence --- has unprecedentedly invited over 30 journalists (half from China, Vietnam, Thailand and India; and a similar number from Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Mexico) to tour its defence facilities. This includes your correspondent and another from one other Indian newspaper.

Leaving behind the Kuznetsovskiy Prospekt, we wend our way through scenic clumps of forest to the Park Patriot, a vast training-cum-exhibition ground outside Moscow. This is being extensively revamped to hold equipment demonstrations, exhibitions, and exercises with foreign militaries. With fewer orders from Moscow, the Russian arms industry must aggressively pursue more foreign orders.

“We plan to hold an annual military exposition here once the facilities are completed by 2017,” Lieutenant General Rafael M Timoshev, the Park Patriot deputy director tells the throng of journalists.

Yet, increasing exports will not be easy for Moscow. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s 2015 Yearbook, which has studied defence sales trends in the five-year period from 2010-2014, finds that Russia is already the world’s second-biggest arms exporter, with 27 per cent of the export market. Only the United States is ahead with 31 per cent of the market. At third place is China, with 5 per cent of the market, edging out German and France, which also have the same figure, followed by the United Kingdom with 4 per cent.

Delegations from prospective buyer countries are evident at the MAKS 2015 air show, which President Putin inaugurated on Tuesday at Zhukovsky, a Moscow suburb. This year’s version of the biennial aerospace exhibition features 156 global and 584 Russian companies, with the host nation’s aerospace design strength on full display.

Tearing through the skies is the Sukhoi T-50, the Russian prototype of the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) that Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) will co-develop with Sukhoi when protracted negotiations over the design partnership are finally concluded. But the T-50 appears to be in growing trouble. Today was the first public flight of the aircraft since the last MAKS show two years ago. And both the Russian and Indian air forces are reducing the numbers of aircraft they are committing to build.

The Indian Air Force was initially looking to build close to 220 FGFAs. That was reduced to 144, and uncorroborated media reports have recently indicated that this number could go down to about 75. That is why Russia needs more foreign buy-in.

Also on display is the giant Mi-26T2 helicopter, the world’s largest rotary wing machine. This was developed for the Indian heavy-lift helicopter tender but, after 2012, when New Delhi chose the American CH-47F Chinook, Russia is seeking alternative buyers.

Russia’s traditional reliance on India as a buyer is also evident with the spotlight on its new, light, multi-role helicopter --- the Kamov-226T --- which has been developed for the Indian tender for 197 light utility helicopters, first announced in 2003. Since New Delhi demands that it have the power to operate up to 6,100 metres, the Kamov-226 features a new, more powerful engine. A pair of Turbomeca Arrius 2G1 engines, each producing 580 BHP of power, have replaced the earlier Rolls-Royce Allison 250-C20R/2 engines, which produced only 450 BHP.

So keen is Moscow that India buy this helicopter that President Putin personally took up the issue with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during their summit meeting last year. Russia has proclaimed its willingness for a “Make in India” contract for this helicopter, but the jury in New Delhi is still out.

[Disclosure: The correspondent is visiting Russia at the invitation of Rostec, a Russian state body that promotes the development, manufacture and export of high-tech industrial products.]