Indian panel approves $4 billion BrahMos missile purchase, more tech

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — The Indian government is closer to buying a multibillion-dollar package of cruise missiles, air defense weapons, surveillance radars and fighter jet engines after approval from the country’s top security decision-making body.

At a meeting on February 21, the Cabinet Committee on Security approved the four procurement projects worth a total of about 350 billion rupees (US$4 billion).

According to local media reports citing government sources, the approved items were BrahMos cruise missiles for the Navy, anti-aircraft guns for the Army, ground-based air surveillance radars and new engines for the Air Force’s MiG-29 fighters.

The approval by the committee, which is chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is a necessary step in the Defense Ministry’s contractual journey.

Local media reported that the BrahMos missile deal will be signed in March. The consolidated contract would include around 220 weapons to arm Indian frigates and destroyers – India’s largest single BrahMos order.

The contract reportedly includes a combination of standard 290 km (range 180 miles) and extended range 450 km (range 280 miles) BrahMos missiles, 75% of which are locally manufactured.

“The BrahMos is expected to significantly enhance the surface attack capabilities of Indian Navy ships, especially with extended-range missiles,” Rahul Bhonsle, director of New Delhi-based consultancy Security Risks Asia, told Defense News.

India is also exporting BrahMos missiles to the Philippines under a deal worth about $375 million signed in January 2022. Atul Rane, who heads missile maker BrahMos Aerospace, said last year that the company has set a target of exporting BrahMos weapons worth 5 billion dollars by 2025.

The committee also approved the purchase of Sudarshan air defense systems from private company Larsen & Toubro — an acquisition worth about $844 million. The Army would use the systems, which have radar and 40mm guns, to protect its installations and the country’s border areas.

Sudarshan’s approval followed an October 2022 procurement request that called for 141,576 rounds of ammunition to accompany 220 weapons, including pre-fragmented, programmable proximity fuses and smart cartridges.

Sudarshan is also competing in an Air Force tender for 244 close-in weapon systems.

“Air defense guns have gained importance because of the generally weak air and missile defense profile with legacy equipment, with the Indian Army in particular, and the added threat of drones,” Bhonsle explained.

The Indian Army relies on antiquated Bofors L/70 and ZU-23-2B towed guns and their replacement has become urgent given the emerging threat of drones and stray munitions.

Larsen & Toubro is also to supply the air surveillance radars, worth about $723 million. India is prioritizing better radar coverage of its northern and western borders to protect itself from Chinese and Pakistani aircraft, respectively. Augmenting the existing radar network in phases, the Air Force will operate the new indigenous sensors.

And Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. is to build new RD-33MK engines for MiG-29 fighters in cooperation with Russia, with the project worth about $639 million.

These projects highlight India’s efforts to maximize indigenous inflow. The economic policy of Make in India seems to be gaining traction, Bhonsle said.

“However, it should be noted that there is also significant foreign collaboration in many of the projects as up to 50% or more is permissible under the existing rules for acquisition,” Bhonsle added.

Gordon Arthur is the Asia correspondent for Defense News. After 20 years working in Hong Kong, he now lives in New Zealand. He has attended military exercises and defense exhibitions in about 20 countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

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