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The BrahMos: Potential buyers, Competition and Hurdles


With India determined to develop itself as a hub of defence manufacturing, how it handles the sale of the BrahMos would be an important factor in its potential emergence as a net provider of regional security in the Indo-Pacific.

By: HARSH V. PANT and JAVIN ARYAN

Earlier this month, India and the Philippines signed the “Implementing Arrangement” on defence material and equipment procurement. This agreement lays the groundwork for sales of defence systems, such as the highly anticipated export of the BrahMos cruise missile, through the government-to-government route. As the Philippines’ Secretary of National Defence publicly acknowledges the archipelagic country’s intention of purchasing the missile, and the Navy Chief calls it the ideal weapon, a potential export deal moves one step closer to reality. This deal will be of great significance for multiple reasons, and even though the procurement process is progressing steadfastly, there still lie many challenges ahead.

The trajectory

Research and development of the BrahMos cruise missile systems began in the late 1990s. Manufactured by BrahMos Aerospace Limited, a joint venture between India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Russia’s NPO Mashinostroyeniya (NPOM), this is the first supersonic cruise missile to enter service. Capable of flying at a speed of Mach 2.8 (almost three times the speed of sound), it has a range of at least 290 km.

Traveling with such velocity means that it would be difficult for air defence systems utilising surface-to-air missiles to intercept the BrahMos while making it easier for it to target and neutralise advanced fighter jets like the Chinese J20 moving at less than Mach 2 speeds. Even so, efforts to increase the speed and range of the missile in its next iterations are underway, with a goal of achieving hypersonic speeds (at or above Mach 5) and a maximum range of 1,500 km. India gaining membership of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) in 2016 has played a major role in the development of these capabilities.

Traveling with such velocity means that it would be difficult for air defence systems utilising surface-to-air missiles to intercept the BrahMos while making it easier for it to target and neutralise advanced fighter jets like the Chinese J20 moving at less than Mach 2 speeds.

Early naval and land variants of the BrahMos were inducted into service by the Indian Navy in 2005 and the Indian Army in 2007. Subsequently, an air-launched variant was successfully tested in November 2017 by the Indian Air Force from its Sukhoi-30 MKI fighter jet, giving the missile a dominating presence in all three domains.

military
Sources: YJ-12X-51

These advanced and powerful capabilities of the BrahMos not only augment the strength of the Indian military but make it a highly desirable product for other countries to procure as well. Exporting the system, hence, has been on the agenda for more than a decade. Doing so would boost the credibility of India as a defence exporter, help it meet the target of US$ 5 billion in defence exports by 2025, and elevate its stature as a regional player. Countries such as Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, Argentina, Brazil, and South Africa have so far shown an interest in acquiring the systems.

The sale to the Philippines

The implications of the Philippines becoming the first country to import the BrahMos could be wide-ranging and consequential in the Indo-Pacific. For starters, it would caution China, with whom the Philippines has been engaged in a territorial conflict in the South China Sea, and act as a deterrent to Beijing’s aggressive posturing. Indeed, this is why China has been wary of ASEAN countries acquiring defence systems like the BrahMos. Further, taking lessons, other nations threatened by Chinese belligerence may come forward to induct the BrahMos into their arsenal, thereby boosting India’s economic, soft, and hard power profile in the region and providing the Indo-Pacific with a strong and dependable anchor with which they can protect their sovereignty and territory.

Taking lessons, other nations threatened by Chinese belligerence may come forward to induct the BrahMos into their arsenal.

Roadblocks ahead

The government of India has prioritised making the country atmanirbhar in the defence manufacturing sector and establishing itself as a major defence exporter. The Philippines, on the other hand, has decided to buy the BrahMos out of geopolitical and strategic necessity. Nonetheless, two major roadblocks still remain for the BrahMos to be delivered to Manila.

The first roadblock is the US’s Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). Passed and signed into law in 2017, the Act aims to sanction individuals and entities who engage in a “significant transaction” with a listed entity. So far, Turkey and China have been penalised under CAATSA for purchasing the S-400 Triumf air defence systems from Russia. NPO Mashinostroyeniya (NPOM), which owns a 49.5 percent stake in BrahMos Aerospace Limited, is one of the listed Russian entities. And since 65 percent of the components, including the ramjet engine and radar seeker used in the BrahMos, are reportedly provided by NPOM, the export of the missile systems may attract sanctions. Remarkably, the US, of which India is a major defence partner, has maintained ambiguity over whether it will introduce sanctions over India’s acquisition of the S-400, licensed production of the AK-203 assault rifle, and export of the BrahMos. Hesitant of being sanctioned themselves, countries may shy away from purchasing the BrahMos. There is, however, an excellent case for India to receive a waiver from CAATSA, especially vis-à-vis the BrahMos that can help contain a confrontational China.

Remarkably, the US, of which India is a major defence partner, has maintained ambiguity over whether it will introduce sanctions over India’s acquisition of the S-400, licensed production of the AK-203 assault rifle, and export of the BrahMos.

The second issue pertains to financing. A regiment of the BrahMos, including a mobile command post, four missile-launcher vehicles, several missile carriers, and 90 missiles, reportedly costs around US $275 million (INR 2,000 crores). Ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries who are interested in the BrahMos would find it difficult to purchase it. The cost of the systems has been a major hurdle in moving forward to reach a deal with the Philippines and Vietnam. To remedy this, India has offered US$ 500 million and US$ 100 million lines of credit to Vietnam and the Philippines, respectively. Also, the Philippines is thinking of purchasing a smaller profile of just one battery of the BrahMos, consisting of three missile launchers with 2-3 missile tubes each.

Additionally, India should also be mindful of the competition it faces from other manufacturers and exporters. Case in point, Vietnam was said to be in talks with Russia to procure missiles similar to the BrahMos at a potentially lower cost. As New Delhi looks to put more of its indigenous defence products — such as the Akash air defence systems, Astra air-to-air missile, and HAL Dhruv utility helicopter, on the market — it should focus on developing a streamlined and efficient export regime.

With India determined to develop itself as a hub of defence manufacturing, how it handles the sale of the BrahMos would be an important factor in its potential emergence as a net provider of regional security in the Indo-Pacific.

Source: orfonline


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