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Indian committee OKs $4 billion buy of BrahMos missiles, more tech

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Indian committee OKs $4 billion buy of BrahMos missiles, more tech

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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 following approval from the country’s highest decision-making body on security affairs.

At a Feb. 21 meeting, the Cabinet Committee on Security approved the four procurement projects cumulatively worth about 350 billion rupees (U.S. $4 billion).

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

Approval by the committee, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi chairs, is a necessary step along the Defence Ministry’s contractual pathway.

Local media reported the BrahMos missile deal would be signed in March. The consolidated contract would include some 220 weapons to arm Indian frigates and destroyers — the largest-ever individual BrahMos order for India.

The contract will reportedly involve a mix of standard 290-kilometer-range (180-mile-range) and extended 450-kilometer-range (280-mile-range) BrahMos missiles, of which 75% is locally made.

“The BrahMos is expected to considerably enhance the potential for surface-to-surface attacks by Indian Navy ships, especially with extended-range missiles,” Rahul Bhonsle, a director of the 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 leads the missile manufacturer BrahMos Aerospace, said last year the company has set a goal of exporting $5 billion worth of BrahMos weapons by 2025.

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

The Sudarshan approval followed an October 2022 request for procurement seeking 141,576 ammunition rounds to accompany 220 guns, including pre-fragmented, programmable proximity fuses and smart rounds.

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

“Air defense guns have assumed importance because of the overall weak air and missile defense profile with dated equipment, with the Indian Army in particular, and the add-on threat from 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 loitering munitions.

Larsen & Toubro is also set to provide the air surveillance radars, worth about $723 million. India is prioritizing better radar coverage of its northern and western borders to guard against 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 manufacture new RD-33MK engines for MiG-29 fighters in collaboration with Russia, with the project worth about $639 million.

These projects underscore India’s attempts to maximize indigenous input. The Make in India economic policy seems to be gaining groud, Bhonsle said.

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

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

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