BrahMos -The Great Indian “Atmanirbhar” Story – A Significant Weapon

anil chopra, air power asia, Weapons, BrahMos

          BrahMos gets ‘war-ready’ amid India-China border standoff were the headlines in media in mid June 2020. Earlier the Sukhoi-30MKI fighter aircraft was inducted at Thanjavur IAF airbase equipped with BrahMos supersonic cruise missile in January 2020. In Ladakh region, Chinese have been posturing both on the land and in the air. While the Indian Army and Indian Air Force (IAF) have been operationally deployed to meet the threat, there have been comparisons of the land and air assets on both sides. Meanwhile the theme set be the Prime Minister once again is self-reliance ‘AtmaNirbharta”. Among some other indigenisation successes, the BrahMos missiles stand out as one of the ‘crown jewels’.   

BrahMos air launched cruise missile (ALCM) received the fleet release clearance (FRC). Picture Source: onmanorama.com

The BrahMos air launched cruise missile has just received clearance for combat use. The BrahMos armed SU-30 MKI squadron was formally launched earlier this year in January. The “fleet release clearance certification” (FRC) allows the use of missile in combat missions. The BrahMos is a supersonic cruise missile capable of ranges in excess of 300 km. The FRC was granted on 10 June 2020, after a meeting of main stake holders was held over video conferencing. It was attended by concerned representatives of Defence Research and Development (DRDO), BrahMos Aerospace, IAF’s Aircraft and Systems Testing Establishment (ASTE), and Software Development Institute (SDI). Also present were Air HQ representatives and those from Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification (CEMILAC), which is the certification authority.

Picture Source: defaiya.com

An Overview

          The BrahMos (designated PJ-10) is a medium-range ramjet supersonic cruise missile that can be launched from submarine, ships, aircraft, or land. It is reportedly the fastest supersonic cruise missile in the world. It has been developed by a joint venture between the Russian Federation’s Unitary Enterprise NPO Mashinostroyeniya (NPOM) and India’s  DRDO, who together have formed a Joint Venture (JV) BrahMos Aerospace. It is based on the Russian P-800 Oniks (in Russian service since 2002) cruise missile and borrows technology from other similar sea-skimming Russian cruise missiles. The name BrahMos is a  formed from the names of two rivers, the Brahmaputra of India and the Moskva of Russia.

Russian P-800 Oniks. Picture Source: missiledefenseadvocacy.org

          It is the world’s fastest anti-ship cruise missile in operation. The land-launched and ship-launched versions are already in service. An air-launched variant of BrahMos was developed in 2012 and entered service in 2019, and has just been declared combat cleared. A hypersonic version of the missile, BrahMos II, is under development with a speed of Mach 7-8 to boost aerial fast strike capability. It is expected to be ready for testing later in by 2020.

          India wanted the BrahMos to be based on a mid range cruise missile like the P-700 Granit. Its propulsion is based on the Russian missile, and missile guidance has been developed by BrahMos Aerospace. The missile is expected to reach a total order of US$13 billion. In 2016, as India became a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), India and Russia are now planning to jointly develop a new generation of BrahMos missiles with 600 km-plus range and an ability to hit protected targets with pinpoint accuracy. In 2019, India upgraded the missile with a new range of 500 km.

The Company and Missile Evolve

          The BrahMos aerospace was established via an inter-government agreement. Formed on 12 February 1998, it has an authorized share capital of US$250 million. India holds 50.5% share of the joint venture and its initial financial contribution was US$126.25 million, while Russia holds 49.5% share with an initial contribution of US$123.75 million. Since late 2004, the missile has undergone several tests from a variety of platforms, including a land based test from the Pokhran range in the desert, in which the evasive ‘S’ maneuver at Mach 2,8 was demonstrated for the Indian army and a launch in which the land attack capability from sea was demonstrated.

Kerala Hitech Industries Limited, Keltec, (now known as BrahMos Aerospace Trivandrum Ltd or BATL), an Indian state-owned firm, was acquired by BrahMos Corporation in 2008. Approximately ₹15 billion (US$210.3 million) will be invested in the facility to make BrahMos components and integrate the missile systems. This was necessitated by the increased order book of the missile system, with orders having been placed by all the three Indian armed Forces. Initially, Russia supplied 65% of the BrahMos’ components, including its ramjet engine and radar seeker. Currently over 65% of the missile is manufactured in India and there are plans to increase this to 85% by replacing the components with an Indian made seeker and booster.          

Indigenous Missile Head Seeker. Picture Source: defence.pk

Development – Surface-to-surface variants

          BrahMos was first test-fired on 12 June 2001 from the Integrated Test Range (ITR), Chandipur in a vertical launch configuration. On 14 June 2004, another test was conducted at ITR and BrahMos was fired from a mobile launcher. On 5 March 2008, the land attack version of the missile was fired from the Indian Navy destroyer INS Rajput and the missile hit and destroyed the right target among a group of targets. The vertical launch of BrahMos was conducted on 18 December 2008 from INS Ranvir. The BrahMos I (Block-I) for the Indian Army was successfully tested with new capabilities in the deserts of Rajasthan, at the Pokaran test range in December 2004 and March 2007. During a user trial on 20 January 2009, BrahMos was tested with a new navigation system but it failed to hit the target. BrahMos Aerospace Corporation’s then director Dr Sivathanu Pillai said, “The missile performance was absolutely normal until the last phase, but the missile missed the target, though it maintained the direction.” and that “The problem was in the software, not hardware”. The DRDO officially said that there were “small hitches” in the last stage of the test firing due to delay in input of satellite navigation input to the Inertial Navigation System, the missile traveled for 112 seconds instead of the slated 84 seconds and fell 7 km away from the target. Another test was conducted on 4 March 2009 and was deemed successful. BrahMos was test-fired again on 29 March 2009. For this test, the missile had to identify a building among a cluster of buildings in an urban environment. BrahMos successfully hit the intended target in two and a half minutes of launch. According to official sources, “The new seeker is unique and would help us to hit our targets, which are insignificant in terms of size, in a cluster of large buildings. India is now the only nation in the world with this advanced technology.” The Indian Army confirmed that the test was successful and the army was satisfied with the missile. This marking the completion of the development phase of BrahMos Block-II, and it was ready for induction.

Land Based Verticle Launch. Picture Source: in.news.yahoo.com

Test Supersonic Speeds – Steep- Dive Mode

          The 5 September 2010 test of BrahMos created a world record for being the first cruise missile to be tested at supersonic speeds in a steep-dive mode. The missile was test-fired from the integrated test range launching complex-3 (LC-3) at Chandipur around 11.35 am. With this launch, the Indian army’s requirement for land attacks with Block-II advanced seeker software with target discriminating capabilities was met. BrahMos became the only supersonic cruise missile possessing advanced capability of selection of a particular land target amongst a group of targets, providing an edge to the user with precise hit.

BrahMos Steep Dive Mode. Image Source: defencenews.in

Block III

          The Block III has advanced guidance and upgraded software, incorporating high manoeuvres at multiple points and steep dive from high altitude. The steep dive capability of the Block III enables it to hit targets hidden behind a mountain range of the kind in Arunachal Pradesh. It can engage ground targets from an altitude as low as 10 meters for surgical strikes without any collateral damage. It is capable of being launched from multiple platforms like submarines, ships, aircraft and land based Mobile Autonomous Launchers (MAL). On 12 August 2011, it was test-fired by ground forces and met all mission parameters.

Mobile Autonomous Launchers (MAL). Picture source: defpost.com

          The new navigation system uses an Indian chip called G3OM (GPS, GLOSSNASS, GAGAN on a Module). The system gives accuracy below five meters using Indian, US and Russian navigation satellites. The system can be used in tandem with and Inertial Navigation System (INS) to provide high-accuracy targeting without using any seeker. BrahMos was tested with an Indian seeker  for the first time on 22 March 2018, and was tested with an India-developed propulsion system, airframe and power supply on 30 September 2019.

Ship Launched BrahMos. Picture Source: forceindia.net

Submarine-launched variant

          The submarine-launched variant of Brahmos was test fired successfully for the first time from a submerged pontoon near Visakhapatnam coast on 20 March 2013. This was the first vertical launch of a supersonic missile from a submerged platform. The missile can be launched from a depth of 40 to 50 m (130 to 160 ft). In late January 2016, Russia confirmed that future Indian-made submarines would be armed with smaller version of the missile that could fit inside a torpedo tube.

Submarine-launched variant. Picture Source: brahmos.com

Air-launched variant BrahMos-A

          The BrahMos-A is a modified air-launched variant of the missile with a range of 400 km which can be launched from a Sukhoi Su-30 MKI as a satnsoff weapon. To reduce the missile’s weight to 2.55 tons, many modifications were made like using a smaller booster, adding fins for airborne stability after launch, and relocating the connector. Missile can be released from the height of 500 to 14,000 metres (1,640 to 46,000 ft). After release, the missile free falls for 100–150 metres, then goes into a cruise phase at 14,000 metres and finally the terminal phase at 15 metres. BrahMos Aerospace has reportedly delivered operational missiles to the IAF to arm significant number of squadrons. A Su-30MKI is able to only carry one BrahMos missile.

Air Launched Variant firing from SU-30 MKI. Picture Source: defencenews.in

          The missile was originally also planned to arm the Indian Navy’s Ilyushin Il-38 and Tupolev Tu-142 maritime patrol and anti-submarine aircraft with 6 missiles per aircraft, but this could not be made possible due to insufficient ground clearance of the IL-38, high cost of modifying the Tu-142 which was finally phased out.

IAF’s BrahMos

          The air-launched version for the IAF was ready for testing in 2008. An expert committee from the DRDO and the IAF had ruled out any structural modifications to the Su-30MKI to carry the missile. On 22 October 2008, A. Sivathanu Pillai, Chief Controller, R&D, DRDO and CEO and managing director of BrahMos Aerospace, announced that trials and tests were to be carried out by 2011, and the IAF would get its own version of BrahMos by 2012.

          On 10 January 2009, it was reported that two IAF Su-30MKI fighter jets were sent to Russia for a retrofit program that would enable them to launch the missile. On 8 August 2009, Alexander Leonov, Director of the Russian Machine Building Research and Production Center, said “we are ready for test launches.” He also said that a new takeoff engine for the launching of the missile in air and at extremely high altitudes had been developed, and the initial test firing of the missile would be undertaken from the Su-30 MKI but did not specify the dates. On 26 February 2012, Pillai said that the air-launched version of BrahMos is being developed and will be tested by the end of 2012. This version of the BrahMos missile will use air-breathing scramjet propulsion technology and would be more fuel-efficient than a traditional rocket-powered missile.

Brahmos on SU 30 MKI. Picture Source: indiatvnews.com

          The purchase of over 200 air-launched BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles for the IAF was cleared by Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) on 19 October 2012, at the cost of Rs 60 billion (US$841 million). This included funds for the integration and testing of the BrahMos on Su-30MKI of the IAF. As per this plan, the first test of the air-launched version of the missile was to be conducted by December 2012. Two Su-30MKI of the IAF were to be modified by the HAL at its Nashik facility where they would also be integrated with the missile’s aerial launcher.

BrahMos on SU 30 MKI. Picture Source: thaimilitaryandasianregion.blogspot.com

IAF’s BrahMos Trials

          A carriage flight was carried out at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) Nashik on 25 June 2016. A modified Su-30MKI carried BrahMos-A. It was the first time a heavyweight supersonic cruise missile had been integrated on a long-range fighter aircraft. The project to adapt the weapon for air launch was approved in 2011, but was bogged down with technology transfer and intellectual property rights concerns. To carry the missile, the Su-30MKI undercarriage had to be strengthened, which also required new hard points and structural modifications. The cost of adapting the BrahMos for air launch was “phenomenal,” but efforts to downsize the missile were abandoned after an attempt to reduce the size of the ramjet. On 22 November 2017, the missile was successfully test fired for the first time from a Sukhoi-30MKI against a sea-based target in the Bay of Bengal. This reportedly made IAF the first in the world to have successfully tested such a type of air launched trisonic-class missile on a sea-based target. After the successful test, IAF declared on 17 December 2019 that the integration of BrahMos-A on Su-30 MKI is complete. 40 IAF SU-30 MKI are to undergo modifications to be equipped to carry the missile. According to the CEO of BrahMos Aerospace, Sudhir Kumar Mishra, Brahmos-A when fired from Su-30 aircraft can reach targets thousands of kilometres away. On 20 January 2020, the IAF commissioned its first squadron of Su-30MKI fighters equipped with the PJ-10 BrahMos-A missile.

Air Launched BrahMos Separation Trials on SU 30 MKI. Picture Source: indiatoday.in

Extended Range

          In 2016, after India became a member of the MTCR, India and Russia started planning to develop a new generation of BrahMos missiles with 600 km-plus range and an ability to hit protected targets with pinpoint accuracy. The upgrade will also be applied to all existing BrahMos missiles.

Hypersonic BrahMos-II

          BrahMos-II is a hypersonic cruise missile currently under development and is estimated to have a range of 450 km. It is not to be confused with BrahMos i (Block II) Like the BrahMos, the range of BrahMos II was originally planned to 290 km to comply with the MTCR. After India was inducted into the MTCR regime, the planned range is now 450 km. With a speed of Mach 7, it will have double the speed of the current BrahMos missile, and it will be the fastest hypersonic missile in the world. During the cruise stage of flight the missile will be propelled by a scramjet air-breathing jet  engine. Russia is developing a special and secret fuel formula to enable the BrahMos-II to exceed Mach 6. However, the Brahmos-NG seems to have replaced the hypersonic Brahmos-II as the focus of the joint venture. The BrahMos-II project is currently being continued by Russia alone and it was expected to be ready for testing by late 2020.

Brahmos II. Picture Source: thaimilitaryandasianregion.blogspot.com

Smaller BrahMos-NG

          BrahMos-NG (Next Generation) is a mini version based on the existing BrahMos, will have same 290 km range and mach 3.5 speed but it will weigh around 1.5 tons, 5 metres in length and 50 cm in diameter, making BrahMos-NG 50 percent lighter and three metres shorter than its predecessor. The system is expected to be inducted in the year 2024. BrahMos-NG will have lesser RCS (radar cross section) compared to its predecessor, making it harder for air defence systems to locate and engage the target. BrahMos-NG will have Land, Air, ship-borne and Submarine tube-launched variants. The first test flight is expected to take place in 2022–24. Initially Brahmos-NG was referred to as Brahmos-M. Additionally, the BrahMos-NG will have an AESA radar rather than the mechanically scanned one on the PJ-10.

BrahMos-NG on LCA Aircraft. Picture Source: defenceupdate.in

          The missile will arm the Sukhoi Su-30MKI, Mikoyan MiG-29K, HAL Tejas and future inductions such as the Dassault Rafale. Submarine launched variant will be capable of being fired from the new P75I class of submarines. A model of the new variant was showcased on 20 February 2013, at the 15th anniversary celebrations of BrahMos Corporations. The Sukhoi SU-30MKI would carry three missiles while other combat aircraft would carry one each.

Missile Specifications and Lethality

          BrahMos claims it has the capability of attacking surface targets by flying as low as five metres in altitude and the maximum altitude it can fly is 14000 metres. It has a diameter of 70 cm and a wingspan of 1.7 m. It can gain a speed of Mach 2.8, and has a maximum range of 450 km. All variants carry 300 kg warhead. It has a two-stage propulsion system, with a solid-propellant rocket for initial acceleration and a liquid-fuelled ramjet responsible for sustained supersonic cruise. Air-breathing ramjet propulsion is much more fuel-efficient than rocket propulsion, giving the BrahMos a longer range than a pure rocket-powered missile would achieve.

BrahMos Missile Leaving the Su-30 MKI at Launch. Picture Source: brahmos.com

          The high speed of the BrahMos reportedly gives it better target-penetration than lighter subsonic cruise-missiles, such as the Tomahawk. Being twice as heavy and almost four times as fast as the Tomahawk, the BrahMos has more than 32 times the on-cruise kinetic energy of a Tomahawk missile, although it carries only 3/5 the payload and a fraction of the range, which suggests that the missile was designed with a different tactical role. Its 2.8 mach speed means that it cannot be intercepted by some existing missile defence systems and its precision makes it lethal to sea based targets.

          Although BrahMos was originally an anti-ship missile, the BrahMos Block III can also engage land-based targets. It can be launched either in a vertical or inclined position and is capable of covering targets over a 360-degree horizon. The BrahMos missile has an identical configuration for land, sea, and sub-sea platforms. The air-launched version has a smaller booster and additional tail fins for added stability during launch. The BrahMos has currently been configured for aerial deployment with the Su-30 MKI as its carrier.

Direct Hit BRAHMOS Block III land attack cruise missile system in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands on the 3rd of May 2017. Image Source: GoI PIB https://pib.gov.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=161475

BrahMos-I Variants and Status

          Surface-launched, Block I include Ship-launched anti-ship variant, Ship-launched land-attack variant, Land-launched, land-attack variant, Land-launched, anti-ship variant. All variants are operational. Surface-launched, land-attack upgraded variantBrahMos Block II is operational. BrahMos Block III land-variant is being inducted. Anti-aircraft carrier variant has been tested in March 2012. It could attack aircraft carriers using the supersonic vertical dive. Air-launched anti-ship and land attack variants are under induction. Submarine-launched anti-ship variant was tested successfully from a submerged pontoon on 20 March 2013. Submarine-launched, land-attack variant has been developed.

Picture Source: defenceiq.com

Production and Deployment

          India and Russia intend to make 2,000 BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles over the next ten years through their joint venture company, and nearly 50% of them are expected to be exported to friendly countries. The Brahmos headquarters complex is located at New Delhi and consists of a design center and aerospace knowledge center. The integration complex is located at Hyderabad and a production center is located at Thiruvananthapuram. Another assembly line is being established at Pilani, Rajasthan.

Godrej Aerospace delivers the first airframe assembly for the Air launched version of the BrahMos Missile. Picture Source: dailypioneer.com

Indian Armed Forces Inductions

          BrahMos has been inducted in eight warships (frigates and destroyers) of the Indian Navy. The BrahMos has also been inducted into at least three regiments of the Indian Army, one with the Mark I, and two with the BrahMos Mark II. Each of the two new regiments would have between four and six batteries of three to four Mobile Autonomous Launchers (72 missiles per regiment) that can be connected to a mobile command post. These regiments are reportedly positioned in both western and eastern front. IAF’s BrahMos squadron is currently at Thanjavur, but it can move anywhere at short notice.

Hand over of Indian Army’s Second BrahMos Regiment. Picture Source: brahmand.com

BrahMos Inductions in Russian Forces and Exports

          Unspecified numbers of BrahMos missiles are being inducted into Russian Naval ships. Russian defence ministry has plans to induct on their Su-30SM fighters. Several countries, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, South Africa, Egypt, Oman, Chile, Venezuela and Brunei have expressed interest in the missile, mostly for naval applications. Malaysia and Vietnam may be interested in air-launched variants also. China is one of the main nations that has objections about its neighbours getting these missiles for their navies. On 8 October 2019, the Philippines was announced to be the first export customer of the BrahMos missile system. Two BrahMos batteries are likely to be acquired. The acquisition will be done through a “government-to-government deal, it is reported.

Brahmos Supersonic Missile Talk Spotlights India-Philippines Defense Cooperation. Picture Source: thediplomat.com

Strategic BrahMos Exports

          A more ‘robust’ response to the standoff between India and China could involve fast-tracking the long-promised transfer of indigenous BrahMos and Akash missile systems to China’s neighbour and rival Vietnam. Since 2014, the government has been in discussions with Vietnam to supply it the BrahMos anti-ship cruise missile with a 292 km range, to counter belligerent muscle flexing  China. Other countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand had also expressed interest in acquiring BrahMos, but little had progressed. Providing Vietnam with the BrahMos and the Akash would be more than a strategic move, because it will  boost government’s defence exports policy. It’s time India shed its diffidence and inhibitions by taking on China.

          In November 2017, the Global Times China’s Communist Party newspaper, tactlessly declared that any moves by India to step-up military ties with Vietnam to counter China will create “disturbance” in the region and Beijing will not “sit with its arms crossed. In the same breath, Beijing continues its missile and military co-operation with Islamabad under the even greater stranglehold of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor that is linked to the current crisis along the LAC.

For Illustration Purposes Only. Image Source: stratnewsglobal.com

BrahMos in Ladakh

          China’s known strategy is to initially use surface and air delivered missiles to weaken the enemy without immediate own losses. A similar strategy by India will bring even greater dividends considering that China has very few airfields and other targets facing Ladakh. China is known to have an inventory of around 1,500 SSMs, and a sizeable number of air launched cruise missiles. India must build a similar inventory in the long run. The steep dive ground attack variant of the BrahMos would be very effective in the mountains. Missile also has significant penetration because of the high speed. 300 kg is a significant warhead. The Indian Armed Forces need to meet their own tactical requirements and choose the variants and types of warheads and fuses. Targets for Indian Army in Tibet opposite Ladakh could be to suppress enemy’s capability to wage war by attacking their command posts, communications nodes, large troops in concentrated areas and other active military units in areas. IAF could strike Key installations, and radars among others. It is time to accelerate production and further development.

Lead Picture Source: thehindu.com

Published by Anil Chopra

I am the founder of Air Power Asia and a retired Air Marshal from the Indian Air Force.

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