• Akash missile unleashed.

Akash missile unleashed. (Photo : Indian Army)

India is bent on selling its indigenous Akash medium-range, supersonic, mobile surface-to-air missile (SAM) defense system to its "close friend" Vietnam as both deepen their strategic cooperation against a common enemy: China.

This move is India's latest in a series of calculated steps aimed at expanding its "strategic and military partnership" with Vietnam. Military sources said Vietnam has shown "deep interest" in the acquisition of the Akash missile system, and has requested a transfer of technology and joint production of the system.

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India previously proffered to Vietnam its supersonic BrahMos cruise missile (the world's fastest) and the new Varunastra advanced heavyweight anti-submarine torpedo that can deal with China's fleet of Russian-made Kilo-class diesel electric submarines.

The submarine force of the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) operates 12 Kilo-class subs. The Indian Navy operates 10 of these submarines while the Vietnam People's Navy has an inventory of six Kilos.

Also as part of this expanded strategic cooperation, India this year will begin training fighter pilots of the Vietnam People's Air Force on its Sukhoi-30MKI fighter.

For the past three years, the Indian Navy has been training submariners of the Vietnam People's Navy on how to operate their common Russian-made Kilo-class submarines, which are noted for their extreme quietness that complicates detection.

Akash should prove invaluable to the air defense effort of the Vietnam People's Army. The missile can destroy aerial targets up to 30 km distant flying at an altitude of 18,000 meters.

India says Akash can "neutralise aerial targets like fighter jets, cruise missiles and air-to-surface missiles" as well as ballistic missiles. Akash is in operational service with the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force.

The killer feature of Akash is its ability to destroy multiple aerial targets streaking in from different directions at the same time.

An Akash missile regiment has six launchers with three missiles each. The complete system consists of surveillance and tracking radars; control centers and ground support systems. This all-weather missile system can work from both static and mobile platforms.

Indian Minister of Defense Manohar Parrikar said Vietnam "is a close friend." He noted several initiatives are underway to further boost bilateral defense cooperation.

These initiatives include upgrading the military equipment of the Vietnam People's Army and training the Vietnamese to operate their Russian-made fighters and submarines.

India and Vietnam decided to elevate their strategic partnership, which was established in July 2007, into a "comprehensive strategic partnership" during Prime MInister Narendra Modi's visit to Hanoi in September 2016.