India’s new hypersonic relies on Russian tech

by Abbas Adil

India’s new BrahMos II hypersonic missile may feature technology used in Russia’s Tsirkon hypersonic weapon, a development that will further entrench the two sides’ already deep defense cooperation at a time India faces Western pressure to distance itself from Moscow.

BrahMos II is jointly developed by India’s Defense and Research Development Organization (DRDO) and Russia’s NPO Mashinostroyeniya, and is the successor to the Brahmos I supersonic cruise missile also jointly developed by the two sides.

BrahMos Aerospace CEO Atul Rane has said that both India and Russia have worked out the basic design for BrahMos II and that it will take five or six years before the first weapons test is staged.

He also notes that BrahMos II will not be exported, as India is a party to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), meaning India can develop missiles with ranges of more than 300 kilometers and a weight of more than 500 kilograms but cannot sell such weapons to third countries.

Despite crippling Western sanctions on Russia’s defense industry imposed over its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and this year’s invasion of Ukraine, Rane mentions that these punitive measures have not affected the development of the Brahmos II project, TASS reports.

If the BrahMos II project pushes through, it shows that Russia still has trump cards to play to keep its defense industry afloat. In a 2021 Global Affairs journal article, Viljar Veebel notes that Russia can rely on its open and relatively generous arms export policy, proven weapons systems and path dependency to maintain its arms exports. Russia has adeptly played these cards to keep India on its tabs, particularly on hypersonic weapons development.

At the same time, India is aware of the potential strategic repercussions of its reliance on Russian weapons and military technology. Asia Times has previously reported on India’s overdependence on Russian military hardware with 60% of its military equipment imports coming from Russia.

No strings attached
Veebel mentions that Russia, unlike Western arms exporters, does not attach limitations or preconditions to its arms sales, and has offered several perks to established partners such as Iran, Syria, Algeria, Egypt, and Libya. These have included better-negotiating terms, loans and quicker deliveries that make it beneficial for these countries to purchase arms from Russia over other suppliers.

In the case of India, Sameer Lalwani and others note in a 2021 article in the Journal of Indo-Pacific Affairs that longstanding Cold War-era ties between India and Russia, their converging geopolitical interests, shared views of a multipolar international order, established technical cooperation and Russia’s motives to influence India’s policymakers and defense planners may explain Russia’s unusually generous arms sales and technology terms with India.

They also highlight that Russia has assisted India in several high-level strategic projects, such as refurbishing India’s Vikramaditya carrier and constructing the Arihant, India’s first nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), which forms the underwater component of India’s strategic nuclear deterrent.


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