BrahMos sales - an opportunity and a diplomatic conundrum for India
New Delhi will have to pull out a major diplomatic coup before selling BrahMos to Moscow, but given the advantages, it is worth the try
To supply or not to supply BrahMos to Russia is a major conundrum that the Indian think-tank must be grappling with, given the numerous possibilities and challenges that the sale could open up. The deal would benefit Bharat in technology upgrades and balancing trade; however, the deal will antagonise NATO. Thus, to address it, New Delhi will have to pull the biggest diplomatic coup. So, is it worth the try?
It is now a known fact that Russia has depleted its military supplies and equipment in the ongoing Ukraine war; thus, it is desperately looking to replenish itself, and in that quest, is buying Chinese war machinery from Beijing and has even reached out to countries like India and Myanmar for repurchasing its equipment and supplies. And, here comes the predicament of BrahMos's sales to Moscow- which is both an opportunity and a diplomatic problem for India.
The BrahMos is a medium-range Ramjet Supersonic Cruise Missile that can be launched from a submarine, ship, aircraft or land. The BrahMos is notably the "fastest supersonic cruise missile" in the world.
The Indian Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the Russian Federation's NPO Mashinostroyeniya, under the joint venture company BrahMos Aerospace are developing supersonic cruise missiles. The name BrahMos is a portmanteau formed from the names of two rivers, the Brahmaputra of India and the Moskva of Russia.
What is the opportunity for India?
If New Delhi can pull off another balancing act in the ongoing Ukraine conflict and successfully sell BrahMos to Moscow, it will bring three distinct advantages to New Delhi.
Military equipment earns credibility and proves its superiority in a conflict zone, not in labs or fire ranges. Thus, the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war has become a test bed for the US and EU to test their military equipment against Russia. Even Pakistan & China are benefiting economically by selling military supplies to Kyiv. India is the only major power and producer of military equipment that hasn't deployed military equipment or financially benefited from this conflict.
A gold mine of performance data: Using BrahMos in the Ukraine theatre would generate a treasure of data for DRDO, which will help assess missiles performance against credible military equipment supplied by the West to Ukraine; thus the performance data will lead to an upgrade of the current system.
Credibility leading to Sales: Many countries, including Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia, will closely watch BrahMos performance in the conflict, and its performance will lead to the missile's credibility, which will lead to a demand from across the globe.
Balancing trade Indo-Russia trade
Russia has jumped from being 25th position to being India's second largest trading partner. India's trade deficit with Russia stands at over $35 billion as of January 2023, aided by purchases of Russian crude oil and a greater share of trade in national currencies; this has resulted in Moscow accumulating Indian Rupee, which it finds difficult to exchange.
Due to the threat of attracting secondary sanctions from the US, both countries have stalled trade, especially of defence equipment in the US dollar. Thus, both parties are struggling to find an alternate payment method to come out of the knotty issue. Supply of BrahMos to Russia could be an alternative and help meet Moscow's dire need for military supplies. Based on the variant, sales of BrahMos, which cost between $3.5-4.5 million US dollars a unit, could help ease the trade deficit between the two nations.
Given the advantage, why can't India execute the sale?
The sale of BrahMos will put India in the direct line of fire of the EU and the US. It is a known fact that hundreds of NATO troops are either fighting for or assisting Kivy in the Ukraine war. The world has witnessed the EU's hostile diplomatic attack against New Delhi for purchasing Russian oil. India will be stepping on diplomatic boobytrap if it decides to sell the superionic missile to Moscow.
The answer to the diplomatic riddle may be in the fine print of the BrahMos Aerospace joint venture agreement between New Delhi and Moscow. Though I don't have access to the agreement, nor could I find it online, knowing how defence manufacturing deals are structured to benefit involved partners if needed, Russia could enforce the JV terms and source missiles from India.
Recently Atul Dinkar Rane, BrahMos Aerospace CEO and managing director, told The Week that his organisation was looking at Russia as a probable market for the air variant of BrahMos. This news has triggered speculation that India might consider selling the crush missile to Russia. Though, later ThePrint quoted a highly-placed source of BrahMos Aerospace to refute the possibility as long as the Russia-Ukraine war continues.
Such news is planted to create a discussion and assess the reaction - if there is smoke -there has to be fire. We will come to know in the coming weeks and months what India does or decides. It is important to understand that to supply BrahMos to Moscow; New Delhi will have to pull out a major diplomatic coup.
(The author is Founder of
My Startup TV)