Hyped as the ultimate success story in the field of military joint ventures, the world's only supersonic cruise missile, Brahmos, has come under attack over some aspects of transfer of technology (ToT) from Russia.
In a presentation made before Defence Minister AK Antony during a seminar on defence R&D and technology management on Tuesday, a former chairman of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) raised the issue of India not possessing the technology to manufacture the missile's liquid fuel ramjet engine. Implying that India would be in a tight spot if the Russians pulled out, former HAL boss CGK Nair said, "We cannot make the missile on our own. In future, the country should seek complete access to technology. If not, we can be held to ransom."
Aside from ToT, problems of cost escalation and inordinate delays surrounding new acquisitions have cast doubts over Russia’s reliability. The defence ministry-supported Society of Defence Technologists (SODET), an organisation tasked with reviewing dependence on imported technology, shared Nair’s concerns.
Given the sensitive nature of Indo-Russian defence ties, Antony refused comments on ToT issues regarding Brahmos. The missile has a range of 290 kms and comes with identical configuration for land, sea and sub-sea platforms.
Rejecting the criticism, BrahMos Aerospace CEO & MD Dr A Sivanthanu Pillai told HT from Coimbatore, “The Indian contribution cannot be underestimated. If the Russians are doing the engine, we are pitching in with technology that makes sure the engine, we are pitching in with technology that makes sure the missile is bang on target. Why assume one partner will go?”
Pillai laid emphasis on building ties with the Russians. The Indians are doing the guidance systems, avionics, weapon control, airframe and control launchers for Brahmos. He said Brahmos was not a technology transfer missile and both partners had equal stake. The joint venture company plans to build a hypersonic cruise missile whose engine is likely to be developed by India.
But K Santhanam, an ex-chief adviser of the Defence Research and Development Organisation, doubted if the Russians would part with engine technology, saying it was not in the interest of foreign suppliers to lessen the dependence of their customers. “Besides, there’s no point if complete ToT is not cost-effective,” he said.