New Delhi: India has stepped up efforts to sell an advanced cruise missile system to Vietnam and has at least 15 more markets in its sights, a push experts say reflects concerns in New Delhi about China’s growing military assertiveness.
Selling the supersonic BrahMos missile, made by an Indo-Russian joint venture, would mark a shift for the world’s biggest arms importer, as India seeks to send weapons the other way in order to shore up partners’ defences and boost revenues.
The government has ordered BrahMos Aerospace, which produces the missiles, to accelerate sales to a list of five countries topped by Vietnam, according to a government note viewed by Reuters and previously unreported. The others are Indonesia, South Africa, Chile and Brazil.
New Delhi had been sitting on a 2011 request from Hanoi for the BrahMos for fear of angering China, which sees the weapon, reputed to be the world’s fastest cruise missile with a top speed of up to three times the speed of sound, as destabilising.
“Policymakers in Delhi were long constrained by the belief that advanced defence cooperation with Washington or Hanoi could provoke aggressive and undesirable responses from Beijing,” said Jeff M. Smith, Director of Asian Security Programs at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington.
“Prime Minister Modi and his team of advisers have essentially turned that thinking on its head, concluding that stronger defence relationships with the U.S., Japan, and Vietnam actually put India on stronger footing in its dealings with China.”
India’s export push comes as it emerges from decades of isolation over its nuclear arms programme.
It is poised to join the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) after talks between PM Modi and US President Barack Obama in Washington this week. BrahMos’ range means it falls short of the 300 km limit set by the voluntary organisation.
India’s accession to the MTCR may also strengthen its case for joining another non-proliferation body, the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a move China has effectively blocked. Both groups would give India greater access to research and technology.
The Indian government is also considering a proposal to offer Vietnam a battleship armed with the BrahMos missiles instead of just the missile battery, said an unnamed source to news agency Reuters.
Indian warships are armed with configurations of eight or 16 BrahMos missiles each, while sets of two or four would go on smaller vessels.