According to a report in India’s Deccan Herald, citing comments made by a senior Indian diplomat, talks for the sale of the joint Russia-India-developed BrahMos supersonic cruise missile platform to Vietnam are in an “advanced stage.” Vietnam first expressed interest in acquiring in the platform in 2011. The decision to sell these cruise missiles to Vietnam will require approval from both the Indian and Russian governments.
According to The Asian Age, Vietnam was already deemed to be a “friendly country” according to a joint Indo-Russian supervisory council in 2011, allowing formal negotiations to move forward in the first place. In late 2013, Nguyen Phu Trong, the general secretary of the Vietnam Communist Party, proposed formal negotiations during his visit to New Delhi. While the fact that India and Vietnam have been talks over the BrahMos has been known for some time, the latest reports suggest that a deal may come to fruition sooner rather than later.
Indication that New Delhi and Hanoi may be closer to closing a deal on the BrahMos came ahead of Indian President Pranab Mukherjee’s four day trip to Vietnam. Notably, it also comes as New Delhi prepares to receive Chinese President Xi Jinping on his inaugural trip to India. China, a major claimant of territory in the South China Sea, will not welcome the deal as it will improve Vietnam’s deterrence capabilities. As some analysts have noted, India’s interest in strengthening relations with Vietnam is driven both by its stated “Look East” policy and by a desire to check Chinese interests in the South China Sea. New Delhi also benefits directly from Vietnamese overtures. For example, ahead of Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s trip to Vietnam earlier this month, Hanoi renewed India’s lease of two oil blocks in the South China Sea.
Acquisition of the BrahMos would be a significant strategic coup for Vietnam. It would primarily serve to bolster its credible deterrence against China. As the crisis earlier this year involving China’s oil rig Haiyang Shiyou 981 (HYSY 981) demonstrated, Vietnam remains ill-equipped to deter China from exerting administrative control over disputed waters. The BrahMos acquisition would represent a second peg in Vietnam’s asymmetric deterrence strategy, the first being its acquisition of six Russian improved Kilo-class submarines. The supersonic missiles would allow Vietnam to threaten any naval assets that China may choose to use in the future against Vietnamese interests.
The BrahMos is considered to be one of the most formidable cruise missiles to ever exist. It is the fastest operational cruise missile, capable of operating at Mach 3.0 speeds. In addition to Vietnam, the Indian government is considering exporting the BrahMos to several other states. According to the CEO of BrahMos Aerospace, the key condition for countries being allowed to import the missile is that they are fundamentally “friendly to both India and Russia.”