The Vietnamese Government today confirmed that it is in possession of the Brahmos supersonic cruise missile armed with conventional warheads that the Indian government has taken an age to transfer to Hanoi. Vietnam is the one country China fears most — because invading Chinese PLA units got badly mauled in northern Vietnam in 1979. It is a hiding Beijing won’t easily forget, more so because it was given, not by the regular Vietnamese Army, but by the force of irregulars then guarding the border!
For the last 15-odd years, Delhi has pussyfooted around giving the Brahmos to Vietnam, limiting security cooperation to Kilo sub crew training, maintenance of Vietnamese MiG-27s/29s, and recently even offer of the Akash SRAMs, etc., when what the Vietnamese really wanted was the Brahmos. They apparently appreciated better than Delhi/PMO/MEA the strategic value of this missile in their armoury.
This for me is a particularly satisfying development because I first began advocating arming Vietnam with the Brahmos since before joining the first National Security Advisory Board in 1998 and then when I was there. When I originally officially made this pitch it ran smack into the then Foreign Secretary K. Raghunath’s rather dismissive response in his meeting with NSAB that this was “not practicable” thing to do — a phrase that has ever since remained etched in my mind and reflects the MEA’s strategic myopia!! In other words, China could arm Pakistan with nuclear missiles but for India to return the favour by equipping states on the Chinese periphery was not right. When Delhi fears even to do a strategic tit-for-tat, small wonder India has counted for so little for so long. The Brahmos-to-Vietnam move instantly changes the Asian geostrategical situation that one only hopes the Indian government understands. But it will need other follow-on measures spelled out below to derive the fullest advantage.
Hopefully, the Vietnamese will use the Indian Brahmos as shore battery to protect their offshore oil rigs and other infrastructural energy assets in the South China Sea, prevent the relentless Chinese bullying in the waters off its coastline, and to contain the Chinese Navy’s powerful South Sea Fleet out of the Sanya base on Hainan Island. This last is a particularly hard-hitting aim because once the maritime threat from that PLAN Fleet is denatured, there’s not much left for China to wag in anger in Hanoi’s face. Consider this: A broadside of two Brahmos can sink the Laoning-class aircraft carrier with China, and a single missile striking smaller vessels — missile destroyers and frigates and the like, will sink them.
One really hopes that after holding one’s ground in Doklam and onpassing the Brahmos missile to Hanoi, the Modi government will now be motivated to shove China even more onto the strategic back foot by transferring on a priority basis this same cruise missile to the Philippines and Indonesia, which last long ago expressed a serious interest in having the Brahmos in its naval arsenal. Duterte is a prickly character — who routinely cocks a snook at Trump and the US — and has had to make peace with Beijing because he does not have the wherewithal to fend off the Chinese. Manila would like to have more options and latitude in tackling Beijing. And Duterte will jump at the chance to pump up his own image at home and abroad by getting the Brahmos to hold off China.
This will mandate a much larger and continuing demand for the Brahmos missiles. The Brahmos Aerospace (BA) DPSU simply doesn’t have the capacity to ramp up its production by a factor. Time the government immediately ordered the BA to transfer technology to the private sector for opening of two or more additional Brahmos production lines. Larsen & Toubro is presently the only private sector firm with the capability to begin producing Brahmos on a war footing. No time should be wasted in moving the supersonic cruise missile technology to the private sector companies, and doing India’s strategic interests some real good for a change.