Prahaar ('Strike') advanced solid-fuel road-mobile tactical ballistic missile

Thanks to MTCR’s final admission of India, the country can now export missiles

by Nantoo Banerjee

India, in recent years, might have acquired the dubious distinction as the world's biggest arms importer, but times seem to be changing. The country may soon become an exporter of high-tech rockets and missiles and join the small distinguished league of missile manufacturers, strictly following the voluntary missile technology control regime (MTCR). Over the years, India's defence scientists have researched and developed an internationally recognised robust missiles manufacturing program, producing a series of guided ballistic and cruise missile systems with longer targets. They include Prithvi, Akash, Dhanush, Agni, Prahar, Pragati, BrahMos and Nirbhay missiles.

Its latest tie-up with European missile manufacturer MBDA to assemble and integrate cutting edge missile systems with state-owned Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL) will also allow export of such missiles to other nations. The global missiles market is worth $50 billion and growing. India is already in the process of exporting highly popular BrahMos cruise missile, hopefully from this financial year itself. Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and some Persian Gulf countries are said to be keen on buying missiles from India.

The BrahMos missile program is originally an Indo-Russian joint venture. "BrahMos" is actually a melding of the names of India's Brahmaputra River and Russia's Moskva River. It is derived from the short-ranged Russian P-800 supersonic cruise missile. BrahMos is a supersonic, Mach 3 weapon that is considered the world's fastest cruise missile. It can be operated from land-based launchers and surface vessels. In 2013, it was test-fired from a submarine. In 2018, India launched a BrahMos from a Russian Su-30 fighter, with more tests planned this year. Russia is believed to have no objection to BrahMos export. However, China may not be comfortable about the missile being in rival Vietnamese hands. BrahMos has a range of 200 to 250 miles. There are plans to boost the range to 300 miles. The missile can skim low above the ground or water, using inertial and GPS guidance to navigate to, and home in on, its target.

Internationally acclaimed missile maker MBDA's tie-up with Bharat Dynamics (BDL) now opens a new phase of the missile manufacturing program. MBDA operates out of France, Germany, Italy, the UK and the US. The company, a giant European developer and manufacturer of missiles, was formed as a joint venture through a merger of the guided-missile divisions of Airbus, Leonardo and BAE (British Aerospace) Systems in December 2001. In 2017, MBDA's order book recorded contracts worth Euro 16.8 billion. With an employee strength of over 10,500, MBDA works with over 90 armed forces worldwide. It makes the entire weapons package for the Rafale fighter jet. The European manufacturer already makes its Milan 2T anti-tank missiles with BDL and also has a joint venture with private sector Larsen and Toubro (L&T) to develop and manufacture future anti-tank weapons for the armed forces.

The European missile maker has said that the new pact with BDL is for the final assembly, integration and test of its Mistral and ASRAAM missiles in India. India had already ordered more than 380 of the ASRAAM air-to-air missiles for its fleet of Jaguar attack aircraft with work ongoing to integrate them on the aircraft. The first test-firing is expected at the end of this year. In addition, the missile is also being pitched for the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft as well as a future armed version of the Hawk trainer aircraft. The BDL-MBDA combine has manufactured over 50,000 missiles in India over the past decade, including the latest Milan 2T. Overall, the MBDA group has 45 products in service and 15 more in development. MBDA's products include short and medium-range air-to-air ASRAAM, surface-to-air Mistral, Eurosam Aster, CAMM, air-to-surface Apache, Viper Strike, laser-guided Zuni, anti-ship Sea Venom, anti-tank MILAN and next-generation multiple warhead systems, among several others.

Thanks to MTCR's final admission of India, following its commitment to the regime's export control guidelines, the country is free to manufacture and export missiles within the parameters. MTCR aims to limit the spread of ballistic missiles and other unmanned delivery systems that could be used for chemical, biological, and nuclear attacks. The regime urges its members, which include most of the world's key missile manufacturers, to restrict their exports of missiles and related technologies capable of carrying a 500-kg payload at least 300 kms or delivering any type of weapon of mass destruction.

However, the regime has its limitations. Iran, North Korea and Pakistan continue to advance their missile programs. All the three countries, with varying degrees of foreign assistance, have deployed medium-range ballistic missiles that can travel more than 1,000 km and are exploring missiles with much greater ranges. India is testing missiles in the intercontinental range. These countries, which are not MTCR members, are also becoming sellers rather than simply buyers on the global arms market. North Korea, for example, is viewed as the primary source of ballistic missile proliferation in the world today. Iran has supplied missile production items to Syria. Each MTCR member is supposed to establish national export control policies for ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles, space launch vehicles, drones, remotely piloted vehicles, sounding rockets, and underlying components and technologies.

Interestingly, China has not been admitted by MTCR despite its repeated attempts and commitments to the regime. Beijing is known as a key contributor to Pakistan's missile program. It has provided sensitive technology to countries like North Korea and Iran. Lately, China pledged that it would issue a comprehensive list of controlled items requiring government approval before export. Although China no longer sells complete missile systems and has tightened its export controls, its membership was rejected due to concerns that

Chinese entities continued to provide sensitive technologies to countries developing ballistic missiles, such as North Korea.