In a surprising initiative, India and Myanmar (also known as Burma) have concluded a deal that will see the sale and transfer of Indian-developed sonar and radar technology to the previously reclusive pariah state. The Hindu reports that India’s Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) will be supplying the technology.
The Hindu cites India’s Scientific Adviser to the Defense Minister, Avinash Chander, as stating that the DRDO would be offering advanced sonar and radar technology for use in two diesel-electric Scorpène-class submarines being built at India’s Mazagon Dock shipyard. Additionally, the submarines will see integration with the DRDO’s air-independent propulsion (AIP) systems. According to The Hindu, "AIP systems play a vital role in considerably enhancing the underwater endurance of conventional diesel-electric submarines. Conventional submarines devoid of AIP are required to surface once in a few days to recharge their batteries, a process when they are most vulnerable to attacks. Scorpènes being French-origin submarines, the French had offered to install their MESMA AIP on the Indian Scorpènes."
Myanmar has historically been an important node in India’s Look-East Policy, and in recent years, India has ramped up its strategic ties to counter Chinese influence in Myanmar. Although, given its political heritage, Myanmar is far closer to China than to India, this defense deal could be an important catalyst for even closer ties between the South Asian neighbors. Recently, Myanmar and India have come close to a diplomatic resolution of certain outstanding border ambiguities. India has continuously engaged the Myanmar regime, and was pivotal in decreasing its international isolation, and concomitantly its reliance on China for strategic ballast. Myanmar and India also cooperate as members of the six-country Mekong-Ganga Cooperation (MGC).
Since its independence, India has largely been dependent on arms imports for its own defense needs. As of 2013, India is the world’s largest arms importer. However, India has in recent years developed an impressive indigenous weapons-development capacity. Most famously, India’s DRDO, in conjunction with Russia’s NPO Mashinostroyeniya, developed the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile–the world’s fastest operational cruise missile at speeds of up to Mach 3.0. India's domestic defense industry, according to global management consultancy McKinsey & Co., is expected to experience immense growth in coming years.
The Myanmar deal, beyond its strategic significance in the Sino-Indian struggle for influence, is indicative of a fundamentally novel approach in India’s indigenization of defense technology development. The DRDO will be participating in the upcoming Aerospace and Defense Exhibition in Seoul. According to Chander, India will be presenting its "Akash surface-to-air missile, Light Combat Aircraft Tejas and Pragati surface-to-surface missile to the exhibition.” India’s domestic strategic community has long-suggested that India’s top strategic prerogative should be to attain a robust indigenous capacity to develop weapons technology that can both be used in national defense, and be exported; this deal indicates a bold step in that direction.