Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 85

Ambitious plans by Russia and India to jointly design, develop and manufacture high-tech weapons systems bore some early fruit over the weekend when India announced that it had conducted a successful test of its “BrahMos” supersonic cruise missile. The name BrahMos is based on the names of the Brahmaputra and Moskva Rivers, respectively, and is the designation for both the missile tested yesterday and the Indian-Russian joint venture developing it. BrahMos Private Limited was established on the basis of an intergovernmental agreement signed by Moscow and New Delhi in 1998, and is the first of what India and Russia intend to be a series of joint ventures in the production of military hardware. Although some of those other projects appear to have gotten off to a rocky start, Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes appeared to signal during a visit to Moscow in mid-April that so-called “military-technical” cooperation between the two countries is now back on “very firm foundations” and that it is poised for further growth (see the Monitor, April 18).

This defense cooperation between India and Russia could have significant regional implications, a point highlighted by Pakistan’s hostile reaction to the April 28 test of the BrahMos missile. Speaking to reporters in Islamabad, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman charged on April 29 that the introduction of the BrahMos–or the PJ-10, as it has been designated by India and Russia–would “aggravate the existing imbalance in the region and further encourage India in its hegemonic designs.” Islamabad also charged that Russia’s participation in the BrahMos project constitutes a violation of its obligations as a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). The Indian test came amid continuing tensions between India and Pakistan that have resulted in the deployment of some 1 million troops along the two countries’ common border.

Various Indian commentaries, meanwhile, noted in the wake of the April 28 test that the eventual deployment of the PJ-10 BrahMos would leapfrog the Indian navy over that of regional rival China, and help to even out the balance of naval power in South Asia. At present the Chinese navy has armed some of its ships with Russian-made “Moskit” class cruise missiles, which have a range of 120-kilometers and which Indian sources describe as inferior to the newly developed BrahMos. The Times of India contended, for example, that “the BrahMos should give India the edge it needs in the heavily militarized Indian Ocean and surrounding areas.” Not noted in these Indian commentaries, but probably discussed with some satisfaction in Moscow, is the fact that Russia is the major arms supplier to both India and China, and that it stands to gain monetarily from not only the well-publicized tensions afflicting India and Pakistan, but also a potentially more portentous battle for influence in the region between New Delhi and Beijing.

As for the BrahMos missile itself, it is being developed and produced in tandem by the Defence Research and Development Organisation from India and Russia’s Federal State Unitary Enterprise NPO Machinostroyenia–with a host of additional Indian and Russian institutions and defense facilities also involved in the effort. According to Indian and Russian sources, the BrahMos will have a range of up to 300 kilometers (approximately 180 miles) and will be able to carry a two hundred kilogram warhead at over the twice the speed of sound. According to these same sources, the BrahMos is unique because it is the only cruise missile in the world capable of traveling at supersonic speeds over this long a distance.

Contrary to the Pakistani charges, moreover, Russia appears to have designed the BrahMos very carefully, to ensure that it stays within the parameters set out by the MTCR (the regime permits the transfer of missile technologies capable of carrying at least five hundred kilograms to a range of 300 kilometers or more). The BrahMos missile is said also to have a variety of applications, capable with modifications of being launched from multiple platforms based on land, sea, submarine and air. It is, however, primarily an antiship missile, one reportedly based on Russia’s own Yakhont missile of the same type. It is also said to be highly accurate and can be guided by means of an on-board computer.

According to Indian sources, India and Russia hope to complete testing of the new missile and introduce it into service in both the Indian and Russian armed forces by the beginning of 2004. Of at least equal interest, Indian sources suggest that New Delhi and Moscow also intend to aggressively market export versions of the BrahMos to “friendly third-world countries” (to be identified by mutual consent). Indeed, the Times of India quoted Indian officials as expressing confidence that ultimately the BrahMos can garner a major portion of what they say is a US$10 billion demand for cruise missiles of this type (Reuters, AP, April 28-29; Times of India, April 10, 28-29;, April 30; Interfax, April 11; Moscow Times, April 15; The Hindu, Express News Service, June 13, 2001).

But success even on a somewhat more modest scale would probably still fulfill the hopes of those in India and Russia who pushed for the BrahMos project and who hope it serves as a model for broader military-technical cooperation. Success with the BrahMos would give both countries at least a start toward achieving what they were looking for when they initiated this cooperation. For India, that is the creation of a modern defense industrial sector capable of producing high-tech weapons both for the country’s own armed forces and for export abroad. For Russia, it is the establishment of a partnership capable of providing a core of the country’s own still sophisticated but cash-poor defense producers with the financial wherewithal needed to remain players in the global arms game–and ultimately to enable them to produce the weaponry necessary to return a reformed Russian armed forces to its former world power status.