As China increases its defence footprint in South Asia, India is considering offering China's disgruntled neighbour Vietnam with Akash surface-to-air (SAM) missile systems, which will provide it with the ability to take down enemy aerial targets.
New Delhi has been hosting high-ranking officials from the Vietnam defence ministry and armed forces for some years now. In the past, it has also suggested that Vietnam could even buy BrahMos cruise missiles and anti-submarine torpedoes to guard its airspace and waters from an aggressive China.
Now, India has stepped up its defence cooperation with Vietnam and will be training its fighter pilots on Indian Air Force's Sukhoi-30MKI. Vietnam operates several Su-30MK and Su-30MK2 aircraft.
Earlier, India had also trained its naval sailors in operating Kilo-class submarines. Vietnam has also bought six Kilo-class submarines from Russia.
India has also conducted several joint exercises with Hanoi and might also sell naval vessels.
Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has called Vietnam a "close friend" and the two countries have several bilateral agreements meant to enhance the "strategic partnership" between the two.
India has also offered $500 million defence line of credit to Vietnam to help it modernise its military. The two sides will soon explore the possible defence projects that can be taken up under this. The secretaries of the defence ministries of both the countries would meet soon, the Times of India reported.
Both the countries are, however, wary of an assertive China, which is making heads turn by recently showcasing some of its stealth aircraft and new nuclear submarines. China is not hesitant of showing off its naval and air force prowess in the South China Sea and Indian Ocean region.
India and Vietnam have disputes with China and have called for peaceful resolution of the disputes in the region.
A joint statement by the two countries agreed that "freedom of navigation and overflight in the East Sea/South China Sea should not be impeded and called the parties concerned to exercise restraint, avoid threats or use of force."
Even as India provides Vietnam with weapons, China has been doing the same to India's neighbours Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. It is natural for India to be threatened by such Chinese activities. So, it is basically China that is drumming up what can be called an Asian arms race.
What is Akash SAM?
Akash SAMs are area defence, medium-range mobile surface-to-air defence systems which have been indigenously developed in India by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). It is also capable of engaging multiple targets.
Akash SAM is known to have the capability to take down airborne targets like fighter jets, helicopters, cruise missiles, air-to-surface missiles and ballistic missiles.
An Akash SAM defence system would be inclusive of missiles, systems, radar and platform. An Akash battery has three launchers, a Battery Level Radar and Battery Control Centre. The missile is placed on the T-72 chassis
Akash SAM has an operational range of 30km, at altitudes up to 18,000m. It also provides air defence missile coverage for an area of 2,000km. The missile can fly at supersonic speed and can reach around Mac 2.5.
Who uses it?
The Indian Air Force has ordered eight squadrons of Akash missile systems (each squadron has 48-125 missiles). The Indian Army has ordered two regiments of Akash missile system. One regiment is equal to 5-6 squadrons.