In its quest to emerge as a major arms exporter and bolster strategic ties with “friendly” countries, India has drawn up a list of nations to whom the Akash surface-to-air missile systems, BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles and other weapons can be sold in the years ahead.
The case for exporting BrahMos missiles, developed jointly with Russia, to the Philippines is already with the Cabinet Committee for Security for final approval, say defence sources.
The second country on the list is Indonesia, while Vietnam, UAE, Saudi Arabia and South Africa have also shown an interest in acquiring the 290-km range BrahMos, which has emerged as the “precision-strike weapon of choice” for Indian armed forces. There are nine countries, in turn, which have shown interest in the indigenously-developed Akash missile systems, which can intercept hostile aircraft, helicopters, drones and subsonic cruise missiles at a range of 25-km. They are Kenya, Philippines, Indonesia, UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Vietnam and Algeria.
“Being over 96% indigenous, there is no need to seek any third country’s concurrence to export Akash. For BrahMos, Russia has to be on board,” said a source. Though the range of BrahMos is now being extended to over 400-km, with India and Russia even planning to test an 800-km variant this year, the export version will be the 290-km one. “This is due to the Missile Technology Control Regime (prevents proliferation of missiles over 300-km range) and some other issues,” said the source.
The Akash export version will also be slightly different from the one inducted by the armed forces. The 100-km range air-to-air Astra missiles, now entering production after successful trials from Sukhoi-30MKI fighters, also have “good export potential”, said sources.
India will have to export “bigger weapon systems” if it wants to come anywhere near the ambitious annual target of $5 billion (Rs 36,500 crore) by 2025. Towards this end, the Union Cabinet on December 30 approved the export of Akash systems.
It also set up a committee of defence minister Rajnath Singh, external affairs minister S Jaishankar and national security advisor Ajit Doval to “authorize subsequent exports” to various countries in an expeditious manner.
Both BrahMos and Akash are “tried, tested and successfully inducted systems”. Indian armed forces have ordered Akash systems worth Rs 24,000 crore over the years, with another contract for Rs 10,000 crore on the way now. Contracts for BrahMos, in turn, have already crossed Rs 36,000 crore.
India, however, languishes in the strategically-vulnerable position of being the second-largest buyer of foreign weapons after Saudi Arabia in the world, accounting for 9.2% of the total global arms imports during 2015-2019. It currently exports just some smaller weapons, components and ammunition, having crossed the $1 billion mark for the first time in 2018-2019.