It’s of immense significance that India has got the order to supply the Brahmos supersonic missile to Philippines. It is significant for both domestic industry and for India’s broader strategic interests. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has kept an ambitious target of reaching $5 billion (roughly Rs 35,000 crore) exports in defence and related goods by 2025. For defence production, the target is $25 billion by 2025. The government says that it is building a robust defence infrastructure based on the three pillars of research and development, public and private defence production, and defence exports. There is no doubt that defence production has got a major push from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. A lot of steps have been taken including the corporatisation of Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), the setting up of two Defence Industrial Corridors in Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh, raising the FDI limit in the defence sector to 74% if it is through the automatic route and 100% if such investment takes the government route. The government has also formulated a draft Defence Production and Export Promotion Policy 2020. It has prioritised procurement from domestic industries. The role of the PSUs in delaying production has been curtailed with active participation of private players in the defence sector. Several such reformatory steps have been taken to reorganise the defence sector and the numbers are picking up. From defence exports worth a little over Rs 1,500 cr in 2016-2017, the defence export bucket has increased to nearly Rs 8,500 cr in 2020-2021—a part of this was the “big ticket” $100 million order bagged by L&T in 2016 to design and manufacture high speed patrol vessels for the Vietnam Border Guard. All this is a huge step towards bolstering domestic industry, which was ignored by successive governments over the decades.
It is in this context that the Brahmos deal worth $375 million (Rs 2,270 cr) has to be seen. It’s a small step in the direction India can take to become a defence exporter from one of the largest buyers of defence equipment, but a step nonetheless. The best thing about the Brahmos is, one of the world’s fastest supersonic missiles with 95% accuracy, and which can operate from land, air and water, including from submarines, is now 90% Indian, with dependence on critical components from Russia reduced to the minimum. The buzz is that even Vietnam and Indonesia have shown an interest in Brahmos. Defence experts say that it is not just Brahmos, even the Akash surface-to-air missile and the Tejas light combat aircraft among others may find buyers abroad. Hence, this is an area where a lot can be achieved in terms of realising India’s potential and making it a $5 trillion economy inside the next couple of years.
As for the South China Sea countries that are the first line of defence against a malign power, it is in India’s broader strategic interest to arm them with missiles, and thus help them reduce the gulf that exists between them and China militarily. This can be a part of India’s strategy of containing China, apart from increasing India’s influence in the region, which can have a likely positive impact on trade with the ASEAN countries. India does not need to be the “security provider” for the South China Sea countries. Apparently, that role is “reserved” for the United States. However, the US has been failing in its job, if Philippines’ experience in 2012 is anything to go by, when US did not do anything to help it during the standoff with China over the Scarborough Shoal. This is one of the reasons why countries in the region are sceptical about the US. This scepticism has been aggravated because of the manner in which the Afghanistan pullout happened. So there is a possibility of this region becoming a major importer of defence equipment in the near future. There is no reason why India should not get a share of that market.