Boosting The Lethal Punch of Brahmos
In what has been described as a shot in the arm for strengthening and refining India’s missile strike capability, Indian army in November 2015, successfully test-fired the land attack, Block III variant of the Indo-Russian supersonic cruise missile, BrahMos, perhaps the most formidable and lethal weapon system available with the Indian defence forces. The test firing of the land based version of BrahMos, which has a maximum range of 290-km, from Pokhran range in Rajasthan, was meant to demonstrate the “supreme operational capacity of the weapon.” According to Indian Defence Ministry sources, the test firing carried out in the user deployment configuration met all the mission objectives. As it is, the Indian army has already three regiments of the land attack variant of BrahMos in its arsenal. As pointed out by Sudhir Kumar Mishra, Chief Executive Officer(CEO) and Managing Director(MD) of BrahMos Aerospace, the Indo-Russian joint venture responsible for the development and production of this deadly missile system, this variant of BrahMos is an incredible lethal weapon with pinpoint accuracy to take on the enemy target anywhere. The Block III, land attack version of BrahMos is capable of accomplishing a steep supersonic dive across the mountain ranges to identify and hit targets in a clutter.
This versatile, high performance missile system, with a precise target hitting capability, features a home grown airframe and could operate based on the GPS satellite data to identify, hit and destroy a target in a steep dive, supersonic mode. According to BrahMos Aerospace, this missile is well equipped to achieve a high level of accuracy with multiple navigation satellite systems integrated with advanced software without having homing devices to enhance its precision strike capability. BrahMos Aerospace is also planning to take up the development of a near vertical and surround capability BrahMos system for use in the mountainous region.
By all means, the decision to deploy BrahMos in India’s poorly guarded and difficult to patrol north eastern sector which shares borders with China makes for an immense strategic sense. In particular, it could boost the morale and fighting spirit of the elite mountain strike corps to counter China’s aggressive military posturing along and across the actual line of control. As it is ,the land based BrahMos weapon complex comprises four to six Mobile Autonomous Launchers (MAL) controlled by a Mobile Command Post (MCP) and a Mobile Replenishment Vehicle (MRV). MAL is an autonomous vehicle with its own communications, power supply and fire control systems. Three BrahMos missiles placed in three independent containers are installed on MAL. The missile can be fired on three different targets or in a variety of other combinations near simultaneously.
BrahMos is a high technology, tactical missile designed to carry a conventional warhead in a 200-kg weight class and capable of flying at 2.8 Mach speed with a tremendous destructive power to the designated target. BrahMos has been tested for severe climatic conditions such as extreme hot desert conditions and stormy monsoon conditions, conforming to its all weather capabilities. The range of BrahMos has been deliberately kept below 300-km to comply with the stipulations of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and facilitate its export.
BrahMos is claimed to be the only supersonic cruise missile in its class in service in the world. While the initial acceleration of this fire and forget missile is provided by a solid fuel driven booster, supersonic cruise speed is made available by the liquid fueled ramjet stage. BrahMos is derived from the Russian P-800 Oniks/Yakhnot supersonic anti ship cruise missile. The most advantageous feature of BrahMos is that it can effectively engage targets flying at an altitude as low as 10-meters and can sustain its supersonic speed at all the stages of flight.
The Indo-Russian joint venture, BrahMos Aerospace, which was set up in 1998,has made tremendous stride in positioning BrahMos as a cutting edge, world class weaponry system. There are already operational version of land to land, ship to land and ship to ship variants of missiles. It can be used for multiple applications from multiple platforms.
Meanwhile, BrahMos Aerospace is working on investing the missile with vertical attack capability and surround capability where it would be possible for manoeuvring the missile like a supersonic fighter enabling attack on the adversaries from the side. Yet another objective of BrahMos Aerospace is to shape and refine the missile to help attain the top attack capability over a much shorter range. As things stand now, there is no counter measure to neutralize this missile described as “Brahmastra”—the ultimate, invincible weapon system.
According to Mishra, BrahMos range of missiles stand out as a shining example of the Make in India policy of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In this joint venture, Russia holds 49.5% of the equity and the Indian side 50.5%. At the time of setting up the joint venture in 1998, it was decided that Russia would be pooling up the seeker and engine and the Indian side would provide the inertial navigation system, on-board computer, fire control system and all the platforms and software. Mishra says that BrahMos has resulted in the setting up of a vibrant missile industrial complex both in India and Russia . In India, more than 200 small, medium and large scale industrial units firms are producing and supplying various systems, subsystems and components for this missile system. The Indian Defence Ministry can take a leaf out of the BrahMos experience to create a robust Indian military industrial complex to usher in defence self reliance.
Incidentally, the development of BrahMos was taken up by India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) in association with the NPO Mashinostroyenia of Russia because the highly ambitious Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) initiated in 1983 did not include on its agenda an anti ship supersonic cruise missile since the technology of such a missile was beyond the reach of India at that point of time. BrahMos was originally designed and developed as a cruise missile for naval operations. However, its versatile potentials nudged BrahMos Aerospace to initiate the development of BrahMos variants for use on the land, air and under- sea based platforms.
For the Indian navy, the induction of BrahMos has helped phase out its outdated and ageing P-15 and P-20 anti ship missiles. Strategic analysts hold the view that long firing range of BrahMos provides high combat effectiveness in a naval warfare and the enemy ships could be destroyed even before they approach the distance which allows them use of arms. Significantly, a salvo of nine missiles can easily penetrate and destroy enemy ships, consisting of three frigates with modern anti missile defence system.
BrahMos is claimed to be three times faster and smarter than the French Exocet. It is also said to be superior in performance to American Tomahawk. In terms of technological superiority it is claimed to be way ahead of the US origin, all weather Harpoon anti ship missile. As BrahMos is required to hit a moving target in the sea, it needs to carryout mid-course correction to ensure accuracy.
The naval version of BrahMos can be launched in either inclined or vertical configuration based on the type of the ship or user requirements. The potential carriers are frigates, corvettes, offshore patrol vessels and any other type of ship. The naval Brahmos missile comes in two configurations: sea to sea and sea to land. The two stage, solid fuel driven BrahMos equipped with liquid fuel stuffed ramjet makes for a very low radar signature, thus making the task of the enemy to initiate counter measures a tough and challenging proposition. The name BrahMos represents the symbolic fusion of two rivers: the fury of Brahmaputra of India and grace of Moskva of Russia. Verily BrahMos Aerospace has now emerged as a leading player in the global defence and aeronautical arena with the successful design, development and deployment of deadly and target specific BrahMos.
With a view to stay in the forefront of missile technology, BrahMos Aerospace has unveiled a plan for developing a hypersonic version of BrahMos designed to attain a velocity of upto 7 Mach as against Mach 2.8 of the basic version of the missile. The hypersonic BrahMos will have scramjet in place of ramjet engine used in supersonic version. Former Indian President Dr. A.P.J Abdul Kalam, who is also a globally recognised defence and space scientist, had mooted the proposal for accelerating research and development in the area of scramjet propulsion for both civilian and defence applications. The hypersonic weapon possesses tremendous destructive power resulting from its kinetic energy. An object striking a target at a six Mach will generate 36 times the force of an object of the same mass striking the target at one Mach. A missile system moving at hypersonic speed is ideally suited for attacking hardened or deeply buried targets such as bunkers or nuclear and biological weapons storage facility. The hypersonic BrahMos is expected to be ready for operational use before the end of this decade.
BrahMos Aerospace is now focusing on developing an air launched version of the missile. The maiden test of the air launched version of BrahMos is expected to take place early next year. It is planned to be inducted for operational use before the end of 2016. The IAF is planning to equip as many as 40 Su-30MKI fighters with BrahMos for quick, surgical strikes. The air to ground launched BrahMos will not only augment IAF’s conventional offensive capabilities manifold but would also make it the only air power in the world in possession of air launched supersonic cruise missile. Two modified version of Su-30 MKI fighter aircraft have been handed over by the state owned aeronautical major Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to serve as a platform to qualify air launched version of the missile. The air launched BrahMos can carry a warhead weighing up to 300-kg. The air launched BrahMos on account of its smaller booster size would weigh 2.5-tonne as against the 3-tonne weight of land launched and naval versions of the missile.
BrahMos missile has also shown its potential for deployment on under sea platforms. It is capable of being launched from submarine from a depth of 40-50 metres. The canistered missile can be launched vertically and once the missile emerges from the depths of the water, the sensors provide out of water command and the nose cap is fired for turning the missile in the desired direction. The submarine launched version of Brahmos, when deployed, will increase manifold the offensive potentials of vessels without impairing its defensive power. In September 2013, the maiden test firing of the BrahMos missile was carried out from a under- water pontoon in the Bay of Bengal. This is claimed to be the first ever test of the underwater supersonic missile anywhere in the world.
Yet another priority of BrahMos Aerospace is developing a miniature, new generation version of this formidable missile BrahMos. This lighter version of BrahMos will have the capabilities similar to its predecessor. It would weigh 1.6-tonne as against 3-tonne of the conventional, standard version of the missile. What’s more, it can be integrated into a variety of platforms including aircraft, ships and submarines. The BrahMos-NG is planned to be realized by reducing the size of the booster and engine. The BrahMos –NG is a more versatile, light weight, highly precise, lethal multi platform avatar of the original missile. This miniature missile with advanced stealth features will easily fit into submarine torpedo tube and a large number of aerial platforms including the French Rafale, the Indo Russian Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) and Su-30 fighters as well as Mig-29K deck based combat aircraft in service with the Indian navy. What’s more, it will boast of Beyond the Visual Range (BVR)capability. It is expected to attract a huge export market for the missile. But then as things stand now ,there is no clarity as to when this missile will be ready for operational deployment.
BrahMos Aerospace is also busy exploring the export market for this missile. It has been showcasing the missile in international defence and aerospace expos held in various parts of the world. According to Mishra, both India and Russia have agreed on the proposal to export the missile to the countries that are mutually acceptable. “There is a huge market for this new missile in India, Russia and friendly foreign countries” says Mishra. Vietnam, Venezuela and Indonesia are among the countries which have expressed keenness to buy the missile. Sometime back Vietnam had expressed interest in acquiring BrahMos for boosting its maritime defence capability. A few Latin American countries have held discussions with BrahMos Aerospace officials and expressed interest in the missile system for coastal defence and naval operations. The Narendra Modi Government is keen on facilitating the export of Indian defence hardware and as such BrahMos Aerospace may not find it difficult to export the missile to the friendly countries. BrahMos is looking at expanding its production base with a view to meet the demand for missiles from all the three wings of the Indian services as well as to cater to the emerging export market. It would be in the fitness for BrahMos Aerospace to set up a full fledged marketing arm to cater to the export potentials of the missile.
Rightly and appropriately, BrahMos Aerospace has been widely hailed as an excellent example of a joint venture that has helped India acquire advanced technological elements of a supersonic cruise missile through the route of co- development supported by industries, in both India and Russia. However, India lost another opportunity of replicating the encore of BrahMos success story by refusing to join hands with Russia for a project aimed at developing the technology of launching satellites from an aircraft platform in lieu of a costly conventional launch vehicle. As it is, Russia had offered DRDO a partnership in this project which however, was not acceptable to India on account of its perceived high cost.
The concept involved the deployment of Tuplov-142 bomber aircraft to loft a cartridge equipped with a couple of thrusters and stuffed with light weight micro satellites to an altitude of 50,000 ft. Here the cartridge is to be released and the satellites boosted into low earth orbit with the activation of the thrusters.
Incidentally, a somewhat similar project spearheaded by the US Defence Advanced Research Projects (DARPA) seeks to put in place what is called Air Launched Assist Space Access (ALASA).The focus of ALASA is on developing a technologically efficient, cost effective approach for launching small satellites. The goal of the project is the threefold reduction in the cost of launching light weight, military and commercial satellites and renders space missions a routine and frequent affair.