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BrahMos and South China Sea – Heading for a Paradigm Shift ?

Published Jun 02, 2019
Updated Apr 15, 2020

In May 2019, India showcased BrahMos, the Indo-Russian supersonic cruise missile, and Akash SAM (Surface to Air Missile) at the International Maritime Defence Exhibition (IMDEX) Asia 2019. This year, IMDEX welcomed 33 navies from around the world including 16 navy chiefs and 17 navies with their representatives, and 6 coast guards and maritime agencies including 4 director generals and 2 representatives. India made a strong pitch for exporting the BrahMos to South East Asian nations, and countries such as Vietnam have shown interest. India’s export of BrahMos to South East Asia can have a major impact on the balance in the disputed waters of the South China Sea (SCS).

While India and Vietnam have held talks on the sales of the BrahMos for some time now, reports indicate that Malaysia and Indonesia may also be interested in importing the BrahMos.The supersonic cruise missile can be fired from land, sea and in the coming years, is likely to be fireable from air as well, has deep penetration capability and accurate engagement of targets in depth; South East Asian nations view it as a cheaper and more efficient substitute to Western missiles.

From India’s point of view, the interest in its defence products is in line with one of the main aims of the “Make in India” programme, namely, to become a defence manufacturing hub. India is earnestly working towards shedding its tag as an arms importer and moving towards not only self-sufficiency but also exports in defence manufacturing sector.

A Times of India report has indicated that India is now offering defence technology and product through lines of credit (LoC) similar to the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme of the United States. This will not only expand India’s defence exports, but it will also allow South East Asian nations to procure BrahMos at the same price as that to the Indian Armed Forces.

Shortly after IMDEX Asia 2019, India test-fired the BrahMos from Car Nicobar Islands at 1450 hrs as a part of joint training by Indian Army, Indian Navy and Indian Air Force. The Combat missile was test fired on a specially designed target chosen at a range of 270 Kms.

The launch involved coordination with large number of agencies for a successful and smooth conduct of firing and was a cohesive effort of all three services demonstrating high standards of Inter Service Synergy. BrahMos has now established itself as a major ‘Force Multiplier’ in the modern day battlefield with impeccable multi-role and multi-platform launch capabilities, sparking strong interest among the South East Asian nations involved in the SCS dispute who view the missile as a strong addition to their defence capabilities, increasing their capacity to counter China.

By acquiring the BrahMos, South East Asian nations will be able to adopt an anti-access, area denial posture to protect sovereignty of their disputed island territories. This will shift the power balance and transform the dispute in the South China Sea.

Compiled by Gauri Noolkar-Oak