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    South Asia
     Jan 30, 2007
India sets sights on cruise missile market
By Siddharth Srivastava

NEW DELHI - Long considered among the top importing nations for defense hardware, India is now looking to access the fast-growing international market for cruise missiles, considered a lethally efficient weapon.

US forces used almost 1,000 such missiles when they first entered Iraq in 2003, and the total worldwide market is expected to be more than US$10 billion in the next decade. An inventory of more than 80,000 such missiles is estimated already to exist around the world. Indian Defense Minister A K Anthony has said

New Delhi is holding talks with "some countries" for the sale of cruise missiles.

An Indian version of the supersonic cruise missile BrahMos has been developed in collaboration with longtime defense partner Russia. The ground-hugging BrahMos, with a 290-kilometer strike range, are believed to be similar to the US Tomahawk cruise missiles widely used in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unlike ballistic missiles, cruise missiles do not leave the atmosphere and are powered and guided throughout their flight path.

According to a joint survey by India and Russia, a global demand for at least 2,000 BrahMos missiles exists, with the figures likely to rise. New Delhi is now looking to increase considerably the number of BrahMos missiles produced at its Hyderabad facility.

India is also looking to test the undersea-launch version of the BrahMos with the help of its navy. India has already inducted the warship version of the missile and the surface-to-surface version will also be ready for use this year. Twelve successful tests of the missiles have been conducted under extreme conditions. New Delhi has also proposed that initial tests be undertaken on a Russian naval platform in Russian waters.

There were some issues with Moscow over to which countries the BrahMos missiles should be sold, but the problems were scheduled to be discussed during the recent visit to India of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov clarified that his country was not opposed to selling the BrahMos to some "specific third countries", termed as "friendly", which could include Malaysia, Chile, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.

It is no surprise that China and Pakistan are absent from the list.

In 2005, Pakistan successfully test-fired its first cruise missile, which India believes could not have happened without the help of China. The Chinese are more than willing to oblige Islamabad, as they have never been comfortable with India gaining military strength without an effective check by Pakistan.

Pakistan's bid to acquire cruise missiles, as well as accumulate ballistic missiles, is an attempt to balance India's declared intentions to incorporate the anti-ballistic missile defense (BMD) system from Israel (Arrow) and the US (Patriot). The BMD system can be effectively checked by cruise missiles.

"There is a huge market for cruise missiles. BrahMos is unique among cruise missiles, due to its 2.8 Mach supersonic speed [all other cruise missiles are subsonic at present] and much longer strike range," said BrahMos Aerospace chief A Sivanthanu Pillai. "It's the ultimate force-multiplier. Once BrahMos is installed, it will be the first [country to have a] diesel submarine [with] vertically launched strike missiles."

G Leonov Alexander, first deputy director general of NPO Mashinostroyenia, the Russian partner in the BrahMos Aerospace joint venture, said: "I hope we will be able to sell around 1,000 missiles to friendly countries very soon. Our prospects are very bright."

India's military capabilities and arsenal are developed by the government-controlled Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), which works in close coordination with space and nuclear power institutions, with similar technologies for satellite launch vehicles and long-range ballistic missiles, such as Agni, capable of delivering a nuclear payload.

At one level, the effort to sell BrahMos is being seen as a way to deflect criticism of DRDO red tape, delays and a long development period. The DRDO is looking to stand up and be counted even as aspects of government functioning are increasingly being questioned, with domestic private companies now looking to enter the arms market aggressively.

The DRDO came in for another round of criticism when an Agni-III (range 3,500km) test failed last year, with the missile dropping into the sea. Undeterred by the failure, the DRDO has said it will go ahead with the program and conduct another launch this year.

There is also talk about reducing the DRDO to a research unit, while involving private manufacturing units, to improve its performance. Most of India's advance defense arsenal is being imported, in any case, from countries such as Russia, Israel, France, Britain and Germany, with the US the latest to join the intense competition to win defense deals, after a far-reaching agreement in June 2005.

For now, though, the DRDO has the support of the army brass. "We have had a mixed bag of successes with the DRDO. Some of their successes are Pinaka [multi-barrel rocket launcher], Nag [anti-tank guided missile], and Nishant [remotely piloted vehicle], etc. There have been failures also but indigenous efforts must be promoted," army chief General J J Singh said recently.

There are also wider implications of aligning with Russia, even as India looks to tap the country for its vast energy resources. As per an ambitious joint statement signed between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Putin, Moscow will help India develop an additional four nuclear power plants at Kudankulam in the southern state of Tamil Nadu as well as the construction of Russian-designed nuclear power plants at new sites in India, all subject to international safeguards and inspection.

Moscow has promised support to India at the Nuclear Suppliers Group after the passage at the US Congress of a civilian nuclear agreement. The predicted stiff competition to garner nuclear reactor contracts from India among countries such as the US, France and Russia seems to have begun.

The attempt to sell the BrahMos is, of course, not very significant when compared with India's arms purchases. According to a US Congressional Research Service Report, India was the largest arms purchaser in the developing world from 1998 to 2005, striking deals worth $20.7 billion. India is likely to make purchases of more than $10 billion every year for the next 10 years.

In the near future, the biggest deal will be the purchase of 126 multi-role fighters for $6.5 billion to $10 billion.

In the past few years, Israel has overtaken France, the United Kingdom and other countries to become the second-largest defense supplier to India, with the value of deals nearly $1 billion each year for the past three years.

Russia has managed to retain its position as India's biggest defense partner, with deals worth more than $1.5 billion every year, because of the deeply entrenched relations between the two countries that hark back to the 1960s. Its position, however, is under severe threat. The US is the latest challenge (after the easing of sanctions) impressing the Indian establishment with its defense wares.

The Pentagon expects India to start purchasing as much as $5 billion worth of conventional military equipment, in exchange for Washington's support in matters such as supply of nuclear technology for civilian use that could open up business opportunities to the tune of $100 billion.

Siddharth Srivastava is a New Delhi-based journalist.

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