India in talks to sell short-range Akash missiles to Vietnam

An Indian-made helicopter at the air show in Bengaluru this week.
An Indian-made helicopter at the air show in Bengaluru this week.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

BENGALURU (Karnataka) • India is in talks to sell short-range surface- to-air missiles to Vietnam, the head of its defence research agency said yesterday, in what would be its first transfer of such weapons to the South-east Asian country.

India has been helping Vietnam's military with training and patrol vessels, but a further deepening of ties with missile sales could draw criticism from Beijing, which has been locked in a territorial row with Hanoi in the South China Sea.

New Delhi is talking to a number of countries for sales of its surface- to-air Akash missiles, said Mr S. Christopher, chairman of the state-run Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).

The move is in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's push to establish India as an arms exporter.

"We are talking to countries; one of them is... Vietnam," he said on the sidelines of an air show in Bengaluru where the DRDO is showcasing its missile programmes and other projects, including a home- grown light combat fighter.

Mr Christopher did not give details of how many missile batteries India planned to supply Vietnam.

Hanoi is in the midst of a quiet military buildup that analysts say is designed as a deterrent, to secure its 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone as Beijing grows more assertive in staking its claims in the South China Sea. Experts say Vietnam is in the market for fighter jets and more advanced missile systems, in addition to submarines it has bought from Russia.

India, which is also in a border row with China, has considered the sale of its Brahmos supersonic missile with a range of 290km to Vietnam, and has been steadily helping Hanoi beef up its defences.

Last year, Mr Modi announced a US$500 million (S$710 million) credit line to Vietnam to buy defence equipment, on top of a prior US$100 million to help it buy patrol boats. The two sides have also agreed on the training of Vietnamese air force pilots to operate Su-30 Russian fighter planes.

Mr Modi is set this month to formally lay out his defence industrial policy, anointing select private companies as strategic partners for the military. It builds on his much-touted "Make in India" programme, which gives preferential treatment to foreign companies that agree to have a portion of the manufacturing done domestically.

The policy will provide exclusive rights for local companies to work on defence projects with assured orders, and encourage them to tie up with foreign contractors for their expertise.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 16, 2017, with the headline 'India in talks to sell short-range Akash missiles to Vietnam'. Print Edition | Subscribe