For years, India has bought weapons from other nations. In fact, by one estimate, it was the world’s biggest arms importer between 1950 and 2017.
But while it may be a morally dubious honor, it is a sign of India’s growing strength that it may become an arms exporter. And not of low-tech weapons like rifles, but sophisticated guided missiles.
An Indian defense official said India may begin exporting BrahMos cruise missile to several Asian and Middle Eastern nations later this year, according to Economic Times.
"A number of South East Asian countries are ready to buy our missiles,” Commodore S K Iyer, a manager at BrahMos Aerospace, said at the IMDEX Asia 2019 defense trade show. “It will be our first export and we have received increasing interest in the missiles from the Gulf countries.”
There have been reports for several years that Vietnam was interested in the BrahMos, according to India’s Economic Times. “Apart from Vietnam, several other Southeast Asian countries, including Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia have evinced interest in purchasing BrahMos missiles.”
BrahMos is an Indian missile...sort of. It’s actually a joint venture between India and Russia, with the latter having far more experience in missile design (“Brahmos” is actually a melding of the names of India’s Brahmaputra River and Russia’s Moskva River). It is derived from the shorter-ranged Russian P-800 supersonic cruise missile.
BrahMos is a supersonic, Mach 3 weapon that is considered the world’s fastest cruise missile. It can be launched from land-based launchers and surface ships. In 2013, it was test-fired from a submarine. In 2018, India launched a BrahMos from a Su-30 fighter, with more tests planned for later this year. However, plans for an improved BrahMos II appear to have stalled.
BrahMos has a range of 200 to 250 miles, though there are plans to boost the range to 300 miles. The missile can skim low above the ground or water, using inertial and GPS guidance to navigate to, and home in on, its target.
Still, there are several questions about BrahMos exports and about the missile itself. “Last year, Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had stated a number of crucial issues required to be addressed before exporting what has been touted as the world's deadliest missile system,” noted the Economic Times.
In addition, there are fiscal considerations with potential buyers. “It is believed that cost negotiation has been taking time as slower economic growths have put budgetary constraints on acquiring viable, cost-effective defense equipment to these nations,” the Economic Times said.
A more interesting question is endemic to any multinational joint venture: Who decides which countries to export, and more importantly, who not to export to? The Indian official who announced the BrahMos exports “did not clarify if Russia agreed to export the missile to south Asian nations like Vietnam, considered a rival to China.”
However, Russia’s Sputnik News took care to note that another Indian official told India’s Financial Times that Russia had no objection to exporting BrahMos to friendly nations. Vietnam has been a Russian friend since the Cold War, and a Chinese enemy since a Sino-Vietnamese border war in 1979. India and China are also rivals, while Moscow and Beijing have put aside their Cold War quarrels – for now – and have economic and defense ties. Which still leaves the question of whether Beijing could object to BrahMos in Vietnamese hands.
Image: Creative Commons.