India in talks with Vietnam for sale of Akash surface-to-air missiles

Akash missile at Aero India 2011. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
India and Vietnam are actively discussing the sale of Akash surface-to-air missiles to the latter, the Times of India reported on Monday. 

The Akash missile can engage hostile aircraft and drones at a range of 25 kilometres. Writing for the Business Standard, Ajai Shukla explains that the Akash missile was planned as a replacement for the army’s obsolescent Russian SAM-6 Kvadrat. The heart of an Akash missile battery is the Hyderabad-developed Rajendra phased-array radar that tracks up to 64 enemy fighter aircraft simultaneously, in a radius of 60 kilometres. The mobile command centre selects up to four of the most threatening air targets, and two Akash missiles are fired at each from the Akash launchers. The Rajendra radar continuously guides the missiles, eventually “flying” them smack into the enemy fighters. Theoretically, a “ripple” of two Akash missiles has a 99 per cent chance of shooting down a modern fighter aircraft. Practically, however, in 9 live Akash trials so far, all 9 missiles that were fired hit their targets.

The discussions follow the review of the bilateral defence cooperation between the two countries in early December last year. During the review, India also agreed to train Vietnamese pilots for the Russian Su-30 aircraft, a variant of which is the mainstay of the Indian Air Force, and help in the maintenance of the aircraft.

India and Vietnam have been steadily ramping up their strategic relationship over the years. Last year, ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to China in September, India elevated its relationship with Vietnam from "Strategic Partnership" to "Comprehensive Strategic Partnership" while significantly deepening defence and security engagement with the southeast Asian nation. At raison d'être for the enhanced cooperation was "to advance our (India and Vietnam's) common interests".

India had also offered a $500-million defence credit line part of which will be used for the construction of offshore patrol boats by Larsen & Toubro and the Vietnam Border Guards.

Aligned interests

The discussions come even as China continues to flex its muscles in the South China Sea (SCS). As the world welcomed the New Year, China's first and only aircraft carrier, Liaoning, was conducting exercises in the SCS with a flotilla of naval ships amid tensions with the US following President-elect Donald Trump's telephone call to the Taiwanese President. While the recent show of force was not aimed at Vietnam, the country is unlikely to be amused by increased presence of Chinese military vessels in the area given that China's claims in the SCS extend into the exclusive economic zone claimed by Vietnam. 

Unlike other claimant states involved in disputes in the SCS, Vietnam has been especially proactive in asserting its claims. According to a Forbes magazine report in late November last year, Vietnam, till that date, had landfilled 27 islets, more than any other claimant. Further, citing the US think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies, the report said that the country was investing in the extension of the Spratly Island’s runway from 2,500 to 3,300 feet. This would make it suitable for operating military and surveillance aircraft as well as building associated infrastructure, such as hangars.

Last year also saw China stymie India's attempts to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group and block its move to list Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Muhammed Chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist. India had reacted sharply to China's resistance to its proposal at the UN on December 30, saying Beijing's decision reflected the prevalence of double standards in the fight against terrorism. China's "technical hold" on New Delhi's move on Azhar had expired on December 31 and India or any other UNSC member country has to now make a fresh listing request for the terrorist to be banned by the global body.

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