By Aritra Banerjee
The $375 million deal to export the BrahMos missile to the Philippines placed India in the elite missile exporters’ club. Having received the relevant government’s approvals, BrahMos is set to export its supersonic cruise missile to third-party friendly, responsible nations. The company’s CEO, Dinkar Rane, had hinted in a recent interview that exports might even begin in 2022, a target likely to be pushed to 2023.
The sale to Manila which happened through a Government-to-Government (G2G) route, serves as a precedent for more prospective customers in South East Asia. BrahMos is already in talks with several prospective buyers in Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.
The current geopolitical situation raises export opportunities, as well as supply chain challenges for the BrahMos Joint Venture, which is the flag-bearer of Indo-Russian technical cooperation and strategic partnership.
The BrahMos missile shows impressive flexibility in that it can fire from land, air, and water. The extended range version has already demonstrated a reach of 450km, and officials have mentioned plans to increase the range gradually. The fact that the weapon has been tested over and over, combined with its multi-warhead capabilities, makes for an attractive offer on export.
Another consideration that plays an important role in the projectile’s export potential is the geopolitical situation in the region. China’s assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific, especially the South China Sea, is being viewed as a security threat by nations in the area. Exploiting military diplomacy with SCS littoral countries to pave the way for defence exports is a noticeable change in India’s foreign policy. The Philippines deal is a case in point.
RAdm. Bakhshi (Retd) believes that countries in East Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and the Indian Ocean Region have always been potential buyers, “stymied by a no-sale policy by India.” He said that the current development of a focus on defence exports is a welcome change.
In line with the geopolitical developments in the Southeast Asian region, countries such as Vietnam and Indonesia have also shown keen interest in the weapon.
The Geopolitical Juggle
The development of the sale of the missiles to BrahMos also has strong geopolitical implications. Moscow-based American geopolitical and military analyst Andrew Korybko said, “the recent deal with the Philippines to purchase these supersonic cruise missiles also wasn’t sanctioned by the US because the Indian Ambassador to the country noted that it’s a bilateral deal and thus not subject to America’s unilateral restrictions against Russia. This presents an opportunity for Russia to continue exporting state-of-the-art military equipment to its partners without American interference so long as such is jointly produced with India and sold directly via New Delhi.”
The Russia Equation
Apart from the complex geopolitical relations at play in the area, there is an active role Russia plays in the export potential of the BrahMos missiles, too. On the one hand, the joint venture benefits from Russia’s credibility. The country has, after all, made a name for itself when it comes to defence exports. It breeds confidence in the ability of the weapon system BrahMos is looking to export since India is a relatively new player in this arena. The Asian giant also gains in terms of access to Russian technology, a boost to domestic production, and a greater international military-strategic role.
On the other hand, India’s involvement makes the endeavour cheaper. It also helps Russia bypass sanctions laid on it by Western powers (such as the US) which India maintains robust relations with.
However, there are also challenges to this partnership. In the wake of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, severe sanctions have been imposed on Russia by the West. The disruptions this has caused in the supply have been evident for months now. There is a strong reason to believe that the impact of such supply chain disruptions would continue to loom over India in the case of sudden events if the country does not become fully independent in producing the missile.
Saturated Competition & Other Challenges
The challenge is not limited to supply-hampering elements, though. The demand side is tricky to navigate, too. There are other players in the market offering similar products or similar rates. In fact, Russia’s own combat-proven Onyx/Yakhont cruise missile is a tough competitor in the same sector. This weapon already provides better range that the BrahMos’ extended range version. China, too, is offering its own indigenously developed supersonic cruise missiles. It has already found a buyer in Pakistan. South Korea is another nation that might be in the race. It has already tested a weapon system similar to the BrahMos. Analysts also have an eye out for Israel and the US lifting export controls on their supersonic cruise missiles. Most other such weapons built indigenously have one crucial bureaucratic advantage: they need the approval of just one government. In the case of the BrahMos, it’s two states that need to sign off on a sale.
Alongside these barriers, the recent accidental launch of the BrahMos missile, which sent a projectile into Pakistan, could be another challenge. Major General Anil Senger (Retd) sees the incident as a definite setback in terms of safety measures and standards in the Indian military. “It does impact the professional and technical image of the army and the equipment.”
While there are several challenges, it is also true that there is a strong international market for precision-guided projectiles with such capabilities as the BrahMos supersonic missile. This is especially true in the case of the Asian region, where several nations view the rise of China as a security threat.