The Southeast Asian country most threatened by Chinese encroachment on its long coastline could be the first true customer for India’s deadly BrahMos cruise missile. Earlier this month it was reported that Hanoi and New Delhi engaged in “talks” over the weapon system and further acquisitions–like Akash surface to air missiles (SAM), pictured above.
Ever since Beijing forced itself on the South China Sea in 2012 its growing presence on the Paracel Islands, captured from South Vietnam in 1974, drove Vietnam to modernize its armed forces.
Since 2016 the alliance has begun to assume a visible form because of potential commerce in armaments. With an arms industry that produces an impressive range of weapons, India needs a market for its wares. Vietnam appears the ideal customer and since mid-2016 news of an impending deal between them began circulating. This marked a breakthrough in military cooperation. In previous years India offered training courses for Vietnamese pilots and sailors operating Russian-made equipment.
The BrahMos cruise missile based on the Soviet P-800 Yakhont is being ordained as India’s first big military export. Now 10 years old, the supersonic system is capable of evading naval air defenses and is a menace to surface vessels. With strong demand from each branch of India’s military the BrahMos can be launched from a truck trailer or a fighter jet.
If the Vietnamese do import BrahMos missiles the Chinese military needs to revise its plans for any action against their former foe, whom they last went to war with in 1979. But the opaque nature of diplomatic ties between Hanoi and New Delhi means the BrahMos’ delivery is, as of this writing, unverifiable.
Two months into 2017, however, and it’s become known the Vietnamese are keen on another Indian weapon system, the Akash. Conceived as part of a DRDO missile program in the 1980s, the Akash is a medium-range SAM alternative to the Soviet SA-6 and S-125’s used by the Indian military.
The Akash has since become a rare success for a domestic program and is used for guarding bases and airfields. The Indian army, on the other hand, sees it as a shield for mechanized units. Deployed along with a separate phased-array radar and a mobile command center, Akash batteries mounted on a tracked chassis (either a modified T-72 or BMP) skirt armored formations to neutralize oncoming threats, two missiles at a time.
Should the Vietnamese choose the Akash it proves a viable replacement to its aging SA-2 SAMs leftover from the 1960s. Designed for multiple configurations, the Akash is suited for hard sites and infrastructure but won’t be out of place on an artificial island over disputed waters. The Akash phased-array radar can track targets 60 kilometers away. The missiles have a maximum range of 25 km and the DRDO insists they’re superior to NATO and Russian SAMs.
Though Vietnam raised its defense budget for 2016 to $5 billion, any genuine purchase of imported missiles might fall under the 2017 budget. It’s also a confidence boost for India’s state-owned manufacturing sector, whose negligible track record could use a high profile deal.