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India set to export supersonic BrahMos missile to Vietnam

NEW DELHI: India has stepped up efforts to sell an advanced cruise missile system to Vietnam and has at least 15 more markets in sight; a push experts say reflects concerns in New Delhi about China’s growing military assertiveness.

Selling the supersonic BrahMos missile, made by an Indo-Russian joint venture, would mark a shift for the world’s biggest arms importer, as India seeks to send weapons the other way in order to shore up partners’ defences and boost revenues.

The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has ordered BrahMos Aerospace, which produces the missiles, to accelerate sales to a list of five countries topped by Vietnam, according to a government note. The others are Indonesia, South Africa, Chile and Brazil.

The Philippines is at the top of a second list of 11 nations including Malaysia, Thailand and United Arab Emirates, countries which had “expressed interest but need further discussions and analysis,” the undated note added. A source familiar with the matter would only say the note was issued earlier this year.

New Delhi had been sitting on a 2011 request from Hanoi for the BrahMos for fear of angering China, which sees the weapon, reputed to be the world’s fastest cruise missile with a top speed of up to three times the speed of sound, as destabilising.

Indonesia and the Philippines had also asked for the BrahMos, which has a range of 290 km and can be fired from land, sea and submarine. An air-launched version is under testing. Unlike Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia, India is not a party to territorial disputes in the South China Sea, a vital global trade route which China claims most of. But India has an unsettled land border with China and in recent years has grown concerned over its powerful neighbour’s expanding maritime presence in the Indian Ocean. It has railed against China’s military assistance to arch-rival Pakistan and privately fumed over Chinese submarines docking in Sri Lanka, just off the toe of India.

India’s export push comes as it emerges from decades of isolation over its nuclear arms programme. On June 7, India cleared all hurdles to become a member of the 34-member Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a non-proliferation regime of which China is not a member. June 6 was the deadline for any member to object to a new entrant, and none had.

India has been steadily building military ties with Vietnam and is supplying offshore patrol boats under a $100 million credit line, its biggest overseas military aid. This week, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar held talks with his Vietnamese counterpart General Ngo Xuan Lich in Hanoi and both sides agreed to exchange information on commercial shipping as well as expand hydrographic cooperation, the Indian Defence Ministry said in a statement on Monday. A source at the Defence Ministry said India was hoping to conclude negotiations on the supply of BrahMos to Vietnam by the end of the year.

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