India’s use of Russian missile know-how in its new BrahMos II hypersonic could trigger US sanctions
India’s new BrahMos II hypersonic missile may feature technology in Russia’s Tsirkon hypersonic weapon. This development will further entrench the two sides’ already deep defence cooperation. It is when 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. It 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 India and Russia have worked out the basic design for BrahMos II. It will take five or six years before the first weapons test is staged.
He also notes that BrahMos II will not be exported. India is a party to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), meaning India can develop missiles with ranges of more than 300 kilometres and a weight of more than 500 kilograms but cannot sell such weapons to third countries.
Despite crippling Western sanctions on Russia’s defence 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 defence 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. On its 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.
Potential strategic repercussions
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
Unlike Western arms exporters, Russia does not attach limitations or preconditions to its arms sales. Russia 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. It benefits these countries to purchase arms from Russia over other suppliers.
Sanctions threat on BrahMos
The threat of US sanctions on Russia-India joint defense ventures may have also stoked India’s reservations about its longstanding reliance on Russia.
In a 2018 joint publication between the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) and Gateway House, Alexei Kupriyanov and other writers mention that the US Treasury explicitly sanctions NPO Mashinostroyeniya.
While the US has not strictly enforced sanctions on India’s DRDO for dealing with Rosoboronexport and NPO Mashinostroyeniya, should the US choose to do so, US dollar-based payments between Russia and India for the BrahMos II project could trigger sanctions.
Given this, Simha notes that India is pursuing separate hypersonic weapon projects parallel to the BrahMos II. For example, he mentions India’s homegrown Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle (HSTDV) is funded and researched separately from Brahmos II.
Another such project is the Shaurya ballistic missile, which reached Mach 7.5 during recent tests. He also mentions that India has built 12 hypersonic wind tunnels to achieve self-reliance in hypersonic weapons development.
Despite these caveats on Russia-India defense cooperation, the established and proven dynamics of these ties may be more practical to advance its hypersonic weapons program.