The Philippines is on course to tie up a deal with India for the BrahMos cruise missile system, marking a significant step forward for New Delhi’s ambitions as a defence exporter. Several other countries, too, are reported to be interested in acquiring the missile that India has jointly developed with Russia as New Delhi pursues the goal of emerging as a major seller of arms. Here’s what you need to know.
What’s The Deal Philippines Is Pursuing?
Reports say the Philippines is set to become the first foreign buyer of the BrahMos cruise missile system and has lined up funds to the tune of USD 55.5 million to cover the initial spend for the acquisition.
Per the Filipino department of budget management, the ‘Shore-Based Anti-Ship Missile System Acquisition Project’ is intended for supply to the Philippines navy and follows years of negotiations between New Delhi and Manila.
India and the Philippines are reported to have signed a framework agreement for government-to-government deals in the defence sector. While boosting strategic ties, the BrahMos sale is expected to also send out a signal to China vis-a-vis its aggressive stance in the South China Sea, where the Philippines has been disputing Beijing’s maritime claims.
Reports say that several countries in Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, have showed an interest in the land and sea-based versions of BrahMos. UAE and Saudi Arabia, too, are said to have explored a deal with Argentina, Brazil and South Africa also finding mention in a list of potential buyers.
What Is The BrahMos Missile?
BrahMos is a “short-range, supersonic anti-ship/land attack cruise missile" developed as part of a joint venture set up in 1998 between India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the Russian NPO Mashinostroyeniya, says the Washington DC-based think tank Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). The name ‘BrahMos’ is derived from India’s Brahmaputra and the Moskva river in Russia.
The missile can be launched from land, ships, submarines and aircraft with CSIS saying that, depending on the variant and the launch platform, BrahMos has a range of between 300-500 km. The payload size — ranging from 200-300kg — too, varies on the basis of the version as does the missile’s launch weight, which can be anywhere between 2,200-3,000 kg. Reports said that the export version of the BrahMos will have a range of 290km to stay under the 300km ceiling imposed by the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).
CSIS says that BrahMos is “distinguished" by its supersonic speed, flying at up to three-times the speed of sound at Mach 2.0-2.8 which, “in addition to making it difficult to intercept… also imparts a greater strike power". The makers of the missile say that the ability to travel at a speed of a “kilometre approximately in a second", BrahMos’ combination of “supersonic speed and warhead mass provides high kinetic energy ensuring tremendous lethal effect". They add that BrahMos is the “only known versatile supersonic cruise missile which is in service".
BrahMos is also said to be equipped with stealth technology that makes it “less visible to radar and other detection methods", says CSIS.
A hypersonic version of the missile, BrahMos II, is also under development that would be able to hit speeds of over Mach 5. The defence ministry also recently said that BrahMos Aerospace has begun work BrahMos-NG, for ‘next generation’, which will be “a new, more advanced variant of the missile… having smaller, lighter and smarter dimensions", for deployment on a wider number of modern military platforms.
The BrahMos Integration Complex in Hyderabad is where the integration and assembly of mechanical systems and the electronics for the missile is undertaken along with the testing of the sub-systems fabricated in other centres in India and Russia.
In December 2021, a project to build a BrahMos Manufacturing Centre was inaugurated in Lucknow to produce the new BrahMos-NG. The defence ministry said that the new centre would be ready over the next two to three years and will produce between 80-100 BrahMos-NG missiles annually.
Where Does India Stand In Defence Exports?
A report in March 2021 by the Stockholm International Peace Researcch Institute (SIPRI) said that data for the 2016-2020 period shows that India was, globally, one of the top-five arms importers. But the Centre has embarked on a strategy to reduce its arms imports by boosting domestic production. Giving a clear indication of its intentions, it has been issuing lists of defence sub-systems, components and hardware that it will no longer be importing, relying instead on domestic production to supply the said items.
Laying the foundation stone for the BrahMos centre in Lucknow, India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had said that the facility was a step in the ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat‘ direction with the “message of Make in India, Make for India and Make for World" having been sent out globally. An Observer Research Foundation (ORF) report says that New Delhi’s goal is to step up on indigenous manufacturing so as to be able to achieve a short-term target of USD 5 billion from defence exports by 2025.
While India accounted for 9.5 per cent of the total value of global arms imports between 2016-2020 and was second in that regard to only Saudi Arabia, reports note that its imports actually fell by about a third from that in the 2011-2015 period. New Delhi’s goal, the ORF report says, seems to be to “cut its dependence on other countries for defence systems across the board rather than to pivot from one supplier to the other".
In fact, the SIPRI report noted that India increased its share in total global arms exports from 0.1 per cent between 2011-2015 to 0.2 per cent between 2016-2020, a jump of 228 per cent. Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Mauritius were the top destinations of Indian arms exports, ORF said. But India has a long way to go before establishing itself as a major arms exporter of the likes of the US, Russia, France, Germany or China, which together accounted for 76 per cent of all arms exports between 2016-2020. Further, ORF noted that New Delhi has to balance its arms exports push with those countries among the major exporters with whom India shares strategic ties.
An online resource says that in 2020, the US led the list of top exporters with arms sales amounting to over USD 9.3 billion followed by Russia, which earned USD 3.2 billion from weapons exports. France was third with sales of a little under USD 2 billion. India, in the same year, had exports amounting to USD 150 billion.