BRAHMOS Supersonic Cruise Missile Program Achieves Major Milestones in 2018-2019
On 22nd May 2019, the world-renowned BRAHMOS supersonic cruise missile program achieved yet another historic milestone when the advanced BRAHMOS-Airborne weapon was successfully test launched from the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) Sukhoi-30MKI combat aircraft against a land target. This was the second test firing of BRAHMOS air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) after its maiden successful test from the Su-30MKI against a ship target conducted on 22nd November 2017 in the Bay of Bengal off India’s eastern coast.
In the latest test firing, the precision strike weapon “flew to its maximum range” before hitting a land target on the Car Nicobar Islands in India’s eastern coast, thereby validating its impeccability as the world’s most formidable airborne weapon “to strike from large stand-off ranges on any target at sea or on land with pinpoint accuracy.”
Incidentally on the same day, the Indian Army too conducted a successful test firing of BRAHMOS land-attack (LACM) version from the Car Nicobar Islands as part of a joint training exercise undertaken by the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force. The LACM was launched for a range of up to 270km and “validated deep penetration capability and accurate engagement of targets in depth,” the Indian Army said following the test.
The BRAHMOS-A is the heaviest missile ever launched by a Su-30 family of fighter. Development of the airborne BRAHMOS version for the Indian Air Force began in 2008. The 2.5-ton weapon is lighter than the ship- and land-based BRAHMOS versions. The BRAHMOS-A can engage targets both at sea and on land. Its officially-stated range is approximately 300km.
Designed and developed by BrahMos Aerospace – a joint venture (JV) entity involving India’s DRDO and Russia’s NPOM, the BRAHMOS supersonic cruise missile has established its supremacy as the world’s fastest and deadliest tactical weapon capable of being launched from land, sea, sub-sea and air platforms.
The first demonstration flight of a Su-30MKI fighter carrying a full-scale mockup of BRAHMOS-A was conducted at India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.’s (HAL) Nashik facility on June 25, 2016. The first separation trial of a full-scale BRAHMOS-A mockup from the Su-30 platform followed on October 7, 2016. Two of the IAF’s Su-30MKI fighter platforms were modified by HAL to conduct the BRAHMOS-A tests.
The Indian Air Force plans to upgrade a sizable number of its Su-30MKI fighters at the HAL facility in Nashik by the end of 2020 in order to integrate the BRAHMOS-airborne weapons onboard. BrahMos Aerospace hopes to start delivering the advanced BRAHMOS ALCMs to the Indian Air Force by 2019-2020.
Meanwhile, the level of indigenization in the BRAHMOS program has increased to up to 75 per cent with several leading Indian enterprises now producing and delivering various critical components for the weapon. In August 2018, India’s Godrej Aerospace, a division of Godrej & Boyce Mfg. Co. Ltd., delivered the first airframe for the air-launched BRAHMOS missile. The company has won an order to deliver 100 sets of airframes for BRAHMOS-A. Godrej Aerospace has been involved in the BRAHMOS program since 2001 as a supplier of various metallic components. It has gradually transitioned to making the entire body of the missile as part of efforts to increase the proportion of BrahMos components produced locally in India.
Besides, India’s L&T company is also manufacturing the transporter-launcher canisters (TLC) in which the missiles are stored. It has also delivered the sophisticated Quad launchers (Quadruple Canisterised Inclined Launcher) for the BRAHMOS missile. The Quad Launcher is designed for launching the supersonic cruise missile in an inclined configuration from Indian Navy warships.
In a nutshell, today all BRAHMOS missiles are integrated in India with more than 70% of the missile components being manufactured domestically. 100% of ground support equipment for the weapon complex are also being made in India, giving a major boost to the Indian Government’s flagship “Make In India” programme of defence indigenisation.
In 2018, BrahMos Aerospace also conducted successful “life extension” test firings of BRAHMOS which validated the missile’s capability to operate from the designated 10 years of lifecycle to the extended 15 years lifecycle flawlessly. The tests also proved the viability of some of the critical sub-systems such as the fuel management system and non-metallic air frame components made from Indian raw materials.
In another major achievement for the programme, the successful test firing of a land-attack BRAHMOS variant at the Pokhran test range in Rajasthan on 22nd March, 2018 validated the weapon’s indigenous seeker jointly developed by DRDO and BrahMos Aerospace.
BrahMos scientists and engineers, while focused on improving the basic design configuration of the weapon, are also working on designing a smaller, smarter, stealthier version of BRAHMOS, called BRAHMOS-NG (next-gen) which could be armed on a wider number of modern military platforms, including fighter aircraft and submarines.
There is also a proposal to develop an air-to-air version of BRAHMOS-NG, especially for India’s indigenously developed LCA Tejas fighter aircraft. With an estimated range of 300-km, this new AAM would be designed to neutralize targets such as slow-moving aircraft such as AWACS planes, aerial refueling aircraft and transports.
The BrahMos program has made excellent progress in terms of financial gains as well. As of 2019, the Indian Armed Forces have placed firm orders worth US$6.5 billion for various BRAHMOS versions, for delivery by 2023. In 2018, India signed a major contract with Russia to acquire four Project 11356 frigates for Indian Navy. While two of the warships would be built in Russia, the other two would be built at an Indian shipyard in Goa. The new frigates would be capable of carrying BRAHMOS missiles.
BrahMos Aerospace also positively looks forward to exporting the versatile BRAHMOS Weapon Systems as several countries across Continents have expressed strong interest in acquiring the formidable missile for their armed forces. After getting due approval from the Governments of India and Russia, the JV company is ready to fulfill any export order.
Today, the BrahMos JV stands out as the most successful defense partnership program between India and Russia. Besides developing, producing and delivering the existing BRAHMOS land-attack and anti-ship versions to the Indian Armed Forces, the JV entity is progressively working on designing and developing newer, more advanced, futuristic versions of the weapon in order to retain its market leadership position. The number of Indian military platforms capable of carrying various versions of BRAHMOS is also on the rise. The successful operationalization of BRAHMOS in all three wings of Indian Armed Forces and its continued improvements thereupon has opened up excellent prospects for exporting the supersonic cruise missile in the international defense market.
Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST)