India Plans to Expand Missile Drive With China on Its Mind

China sees the weapon as the fastest cruise missile with a top speed of up to three times the speed of sound.

3 min read
Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi. ( Photo: Reuters)

India has stepped up efforts to sell an advanced cruise missile system to Vietnam. It has at least 15 more markets in its sight, a push expert says that it 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 Philippines is at the top of a second list of 11 nations including Malaysia, Thailand and the UAE, countries which had “expressed interest but needed further discussions and analysis”, the undated note added.

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.

Wary Eye on China

Unlike Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia, India is not a party to territorial disputes in the South China Sea, a vital global trade route which China claims most of.

But India has an unsettled land border with China and in recent years has grown concerned over its powerful neighbour’s expanding maritime presence in the Indian Ocean.

It has railed against China’s military assistance to arch-rival Pakistan and privately fumed over Chinese submarines docking in Sri Lanka, just off the toe of India.

Policymakers in Delhi were long constrained by the belief that advanced defense cooperation with Washington or Hanoi could provoke aggressive and undesirable responses from Beijing.
Jeff M. Smith, Director of Asian Security Programs, American Foreign Policy Council, Washington

India is still a marginal player in global arms exports. The unit cost of the missile, fitted on Indian naval ships, is estimated to be around $3 million.

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaking during an opening session in Beijing on 6 June. ( Photo: AP)
Chinese President Xi Jinping speaking during an opening session in Beijing on 6 June. ( Photo: AP)

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 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 MTCR may also strengthen it’s case for joining another non- proliferation body.

BrahMos Aerospace, co-owned by the Indian and Russian governments, said discussions were underway with several countries on missile exports, but it was too early to be more specific.

Talks are going on. There will be a deal.
Praveen Pathak, spokesman

Getting Closer to Vietnam

India has been steadily building military ties with Vietnam and is supplying offshore patrol boats under a $100 million credit line, its the biggest overseas military aid.

A source at the Defence Ministry said India was hoping to conclude negotiations on the supply of BrahMos to Vietnam by the end of the year.

The Indian Government is also considering a proposal to offer Vietnam a battleship armed with the BrahMos missiles instead of just the missile battery, the source said.

“A frigate integrated with the BrahMos can play a decisive role, it can be a real deterrent in the South China Sea,” the source said, adding New Delhi would have to expand the line of credit to cover the cost of the ship.

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