Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Plans to export BrahMos

India’s Defence Minister A K Antony left for a four-day trip to Moscow. This trip is expected to reinvigorate defence cooperation between both countries - close to 70 percent of India's inventory is directly or indirectly related to Russia. During the meeting with his Russian counterpart, Anatoliy Serdyukov, discussions will be held on the BrahMos cruise missile.

The BrahMos is a supersonic anti-ship and land attack missile, which can be launched from submarines, ships, aircrafts and land-based Mobile Autonomous Launchers. It has a range of 300 km and can attain a speed of Mach 2.8, which makes it about three times faster than the subsonic U.S. Tomahawk cruise missile and the Pakistani Babur missile, which was deployed in 2005 and reaches a speed of 880 km/h. While BrahMos’ speed and versatility are definitely noteworthy, its true technical prowess still remains to be seen. As it is the case with almost every Russian military product that enters the market, comments were made that it is superior to U.S. products. As always, these comments have to be taken with a grain of salt.

So far India is the only country to have this missile in the arsenals. It tested the missile successfully already in 2004 and deployed a sea-based version in 2006. The land-attack version was put into service in July this year. Air and submarine-launched versions of BrahMos are also in the pipeline for the Indian armed forces. During the visit of Defense Minister Antony to Russia, India is hoping to prepare the ground for Russia to acquire the BrahMos missiles. Even though the missile was jointly developed, Russia has no legal obligations to induce it. However, this would be highly welcomed by the Indian side and seen as a gesture that would strengthen the defense cooperation between the two countries. Furthermore, if not only India, but also Russia, a major military power and arms exporter, had the BrahMos in its arsenal, the trust into this weapon system would increase significantly and so would the chances for exporting it.

Especially India has been keen to jumpstart the process of exporting BrahMos for some time. The global cruise missile market estimated to be worth around $10 billion in the coming decade, but there has been opposition from some quarters in Russia. In January this year Russia clarified that it was not opposed to selling BrahMos to some "specific third countries". As Stratfor reports, Dr A. Sivathanu Pillai, chief executive officer of BrahMos Aerospace Private Ltd., emphasized in an Oct. 4 interview Malaysia's candidacy to be the first export customer, though he insisted on the use of official channels in setting up the deal. Malaysia has well established arms trade connections with Russia from which it bought already four missile systems. Against this background Malaysia is more likely to buy the missile, if Russia were stressing its contribution to the BrahMos joint venture by acquiring the missile itself.
Malaysia already fields Harpoon, Exocet, Otomat, and Sea Eagle anti-ship cruise missiles. The speed of all these missiles is high subsonic. Being one of the nations bordering the busiest shipping lane in the world - the Strait of Malacca – the modern supersonic BrahMos will significantly increase the stand of the country.

Dangers exist, that this might cause the other countries that neighbor the Strait of Malacca or in the region in general also to upgrade their arsenals. Indonesia, for example, possesses Harpoon and Exocet anti-ship missiles. These systems were already fielded in the 1970’s. They are not only aging, but also have a significantly shorter range and a lower speed than the BrahMos missile. The Exocet missile reaches only up to 70 km and the Harpoon between 120 and 240 km, depending on the type. Especially if one takes into consideration the vast length of the Indonesian coastline, which is over 80,000 km, a significantly greater range and higher speed of a new anti-ship missile could contribute to the Indonesian decision to buy this weapon. The same is true for Thailand, which has besides Harpoon and Exocet missiles the Chinese origin FL-1/-2 and YJ-1/-2 missiles, which have the same speed and range shortcomings as the former missiles.

Talks had also been held so far with Chile, South Africa, Kuwait and UAE in this regard. Overall, BrahMos Aerospace hopes to be able to sell around 1,000 missiles. As The Times of India notes, this will be a big step forward for India, which has so far imported cutting-edge military technology rather than exporting it. This step is certainly big in the sense that it constitutes a major shift in the country's status from being a missile importer to being a missle exporting nation. However, this step is definitely no big event in other terms: the proliferation of anti-ship missile technology will continue. The next steps are already laid out. The Daily India reports about future plans for a hypersonic version of the Brahmos cruise missile:

[These talks] are also expected to take place as efforts are on to make the transition from planning stage to implementation stage. The plan is awaiting a nod from the Indian and the Russian governments. The hypersonic missiles would approximately move five times faster than the present cruise missile, sources in the DRDO said.

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