NEW DELHI: India’s plan to emerge as a major arms exporter and bolster strategic ties with “friendly” countries is gaining traction. At least 10 countries want to buy the Akash surface-to-air missile systems, the BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles, and other weapons.

The case for exporting BrahMos missiles, developed jointly with Russia, to the Philippines is already with the Cabinet Committee for Security for final approval, according to sources in the Indian defence ministry.

At least five other countries have shown interest in acquiring the BrahMos missiles. They are: Indonesia, Vietnam, UAE, Saudi Arabia and South Africa. The 290-km range BrahMos has emerged as the “precision-strike weapon of choice” for the Indian armed forces.

And there are nine countries which have shown interest in the indigenously-developed Akash missile systems, which can intercept hostile aircraft, helicopters, drones and subsonic cruise missiles at a range of 25-km. They are Kenya, Philippines, Indonesia, UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Vietnam and Algeria. ”Being over 96% indigenous, there is no need to seek any third country’s concurrence to export Akash. For BrahMos, Russia has to be on board,” said a source. Though the range of BrahMos is now being extended to over 400-km, with India and Russia even planning to test an 800-km variant this year, the export version will be the 290-km one. “This is due to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), which prevents proliferation of missiles over 300-km range, and some other issues,” said the source.

The Akash export version will also be slightly different from the one inducted by the Indian armed forces. The 100-km range air-to-air Astra missiles, now entering production after successful trials from Sukhoi-30MKI fighters, also have “good export potential”, said sources. India will have to export “bigger weapon systems” if it wants to come anywhere near the ambitious annual export target of $5 billion (INR365 billion) by 2025. Towards this end, the Union Cabinet on December 30 approved the export of Akash systems. It also set up a committee with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, External Affairs Minister Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval to “authorize subsequent exports” to various countries in an expeditious manner.

Both BrahMos and Akash are “tried, tested and successfully inducted systems”. Indian armed forces have ordered Akash systems worth INR240 billion over the years, with another contract for INR 100 billion on the way now. Contracts for BrahMos, in turn, have already crossed INR 360 billion.

Meanwhile, India continues to be the second-largest buyer of foreign weapons in the world after Saudi Arabia, accounting for 9.2% of the total global arms imports during 2015-2019. Currently India exports some smaller weapons, components and ammunition. In 2018-2019, its arms exports crossed the one-billion-dollar mark for the first time.