India is now actively discussing the possible sale of the indigenously developed Akash surface-to-air missile systems+ to Vietnam, even as the two countries steadily crank up their bilateral military ties with a watchful eye on a confrontational China in the Asia-Pacific region.
With Beijing continuing to thwart New Delhi’s bid to join the 48-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group and get Jaish-e-Muhammed chief Masood Azhar+ designated a terrorist by the UN, while also stepping up its naval forays into the Indian Ocean Region, India is responding by fast-tracking military ties with countries in China’s own backyard. The expanding “strategic and military partnership” with Japan and Vietnam, in particular, has emerged a major thrust area.
Sources say the discussions under way with Vietnam on the Akash area defence missiles, which have an interception range of 25-km against hostile aircraft, helicopters and drones, come after India earlier offered BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles+ and Varunastra anti-submarine torpedoes to the country.
India, of course, will also begin training Vietnamese fighter pilots on its Sukhoi-30MKI fighter jets from this year, much like it has been tutoring sailors from that country on the intricate art of operating Kilo-class submarines for the last three years,
Defence minister Manohar Parrikar says Vietnam “is a close friend” and several initiatives are in progress to further boost bilateral defence cooperation, ranging from help in upgrade of military equipment of the Vietnamese forces to training them on fighters and submarines.
All this comes in the backdrop of India and Vietnam deciding to “elevate” their “strategic partnership”, which was established in July 2007, into a “comprehensive strategic partnership” during PM Narendra Modi’s visit to Hanoi in September 2016.
Sources said Vietnam has shown “deep interest” in the acquisition of Akash missiles, asking for transfer of technology and joint production of the air defence system.
India, however, thinks it has to be an incremental process, with an initial off-the-shelf purchase followed by transfer of technology in maintenance and other areas.
“Talks are in progress to arrive at a common plan. It’s relatively easier on the Akash front since the missile system is 96% indigenous,” said a source. The two defence secretaries, incidentally, are slated to meet soon to identify the military projects and equipment under the new $500 million defence line of credit announced by Modi in September.
But it will be more complicated to sell the 290-km range BrahMos — or transfer technology — to Vietnam because the missiles are produced here under a joint Indo-Russian venture. BrahMos missiles still have an import content of over 60% from Russia.
On other fronts, however, India is fast expanding its military training, technology sharing, joint exercises, visits and exchange of experts with Vietnam. Faced with a belligerent China, Vietnam too has been strengthening its military capabilities by inducting Kilo-class submarines and Sukhoi fighters from Russia, both of which have been operated by Indian armed forces for years.