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Updated 2:12 PM EST, Wed, Jan 29, 2020

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BrahMos Missile Sale to Vietnam will Boost India’s role in Fight against China

Naval power

(Photo : Vietnam People's navy) HQ-011 Dinh Tien Hoang, a Gepard-class frigate, alongside the Kilo-class submarine 182-Hanoi.

India is poised to leverage Vietnam's upcoming purchase of its BrahMos supersonic cruise missile -- the fastest in the world -- into a strategic advantage that will make it a major player in the maritime crisis pitting China against practically all of Asia.

American sources say Vietnam might soon announce its approval of a deal to purchase an undetermined number of anti-ship BrahMos missile systems to be mounted on warships of the Vietnam People's Navy (VPN). China is strongly opposed to the deal.

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Vietnam has had its eye on BrahMos for the past five years but was constantly rebuffed in its efforts to acquire the missile by the government of former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that was wary of offending China.

Singh's successor, Narendra Modi, however, has made the strategic decision standing up to China is in India's best interests and approved the sale of BrahMos last June. Vietnam's communist government has apparently approved the purchase and now only has to reveal it to the public.

Experts said the ship-based BrahMos missile system will arm the VPN's two Russian-made Gepard 3.9-class frigates, its most modern. Two more Gepards are under construction while two more are planned. The Gepards are currently armed with Russian-made Kh-35 Uran-E anti-ship missiles. BrahMos might also be mounted on some of the VPN's 11 corvettes.

The VPN's main weapon against the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), however, are its five Improved Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines made in Russia.

Analysts surmise India might cultivate an alliance with Vietnam to counterbalance China, which is increasingly encroaching on the Indian Ocean. Closer military ties between Vietnam and India might not be opposed by Russia, the main military supplier of both nations.

These ties, however, might complicate or derail Moscow's growing military partnership with China. Whichever outcome will favor India, which is also contending with increasing Chinese assertiveness along the disputed Line of Actual Control, the 4,000 kilometer-long border dividing both countries on the Asian mainland.

India is also angered at China's military assistance to arch-rival Pakistan and was alarmed when Chinese submarines docked at Sri Lanka just off the coast of India.

BrahMos was developed by BrahMos Aerospace, a joint venture between Russia's NPO Mashinostroeyenia and India's Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO)

BrahMos is based on the Russian P-800 Oniks cruise missile. The name BrahMos is derived from the names of two rivers, the Brahmaputra in India and the Moskva in Russia.

India has also been strengthening its military ties with Vietnam. It's supplying Vietnam with offshore patrol boats under a $100 million credit line, its largest overseas military aid package yet.

By pushing international sales of the sought after BrahMos, India is effectively thumbing its nose at China, which warned India the sale of the missiles to China's enemies is "destabilizing."

Modi has ordered BrahMos Aerospace, which produces the missiles, to speed-up sales to a list of five countries topped by Vietnam. The others countries in the list are Indonesia, South Africa, Chile and Brazil. Indonesia is also involved in the squabble over the South China Sea.

"Policymakers in Delhi were long constrained by the belief that advanced defense cooperation with Washington or Hanoi could provoke aggressive and undesirable responses from Beijing," said Jeff Smith, Director of Asian Security Programs at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington.

"Prime Minister Modi and his team of advisers have essentially turned that thinking on its head, concluding that stronger defense relationships with the U.S., Japan, and Vietnam actually put India on stronger footing in its dealings with China."

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