BRAHMOS missile programme is going strong, with a large part of missile components sourced locally in India
The otherwise robust Russian-Indian arms trade is currently facing testing times. While finalisation of large defence contracts by India (such as the deals for 48 Mi-17V-5 helicopters, five S-400 SAM system regiments, and four Project 11356 frigates agreed by the two governments in October 2015) has taken longer than usual, the difficulties have now been further compounded by the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) bill, which came into effect in 2018. The bill, it is believed, has already slowed down Russian-Indian talks on S-400; even though CAATSA threat has now become somewhat less urgent because the US has put India on the list of strategic allies who can sign arms deals with Russia without risking American retaliation.
Against that backdrop, the Russian-Indian BRAHMOS supersonic cruise missile programme, launched 20 years ago, stands out as an exemplary partnership with mutual benefit and interest.
The Joint Venture (JV) programme has achieved major progress over the past few years. When it began in 1998, locally sourced Indian components accounted for only 10-12 per cent of the total cost of each BRAHMOS missile. By May 2018, the localisation level is as high as 65 per cent, and the figure is likely to rise to 75 per cent by the year’s end. Indian specialists have recently succeeded at substituting the Russian imports of aluminium alloys used in the F3 section of the missile’s body, which bears the greatest stress during flight. In 2017, India also conducted successful tests of the solid-fuel booster, which is one of the costliest parts of the missile still imported from Russia.
These import substitution efforts continued apace in 2018. In February, India tested the land-attack version of BRAHMOS equipped with an indigenously designed- and made seeker. It is reported that the seeker’s performance is actually superior to the Russian original.
In November 2017, India successfully launched an air version of the missile, the BRAHMOS-A, from a Su-30MKI fighter at a sea target. Once that version of the missile enters service, the Indian Air Force (IAF) will have a powerful weapon system made of locally sourced components (that applies to the missile itself and the carrier aircraft). The deadly BRAHMOS-A and Su-30MKI combo is a viable alternative to the Dassault Rafale fighter the IAF is currently planning to use as the core of its fleet. Another possibility is using that combo to augment the future Dassault-Rafale fleet since the combined range of a BRAHMOS-A launched from a Su-30MKI is 2,100-km, further rising up to 3,900-km with a single aerial refuelling of the carrier aircraft.
Even though the BRAHMOS-A is 450-500 kg lighter than the sea-based version of the missile, its improved nose cone and additional aerodynamic surfaces give it better stability and controllability in the early stages of the flight. The stated range of BRAHMOS-A is 290 km, but according to some estimates, that figure will rise for the series-made versions of the missile. Another important feature of the BRAHMOS-A is its greater level of localisation compared to the versions already in production. The missile has a guaranteed market because the Indian ministry of defence (MoD) placed an order for 100 units in December 2017. The Indians have also begun to retrofit 40 of their Su-30MKI fighters as BRAHMOS-A carriers; the upgrade programme should be completed by 2020.
In addition to the launch of practical trials of the BRAHMOS-A, in 2017 the entire BRAHMOS programme also reached another important milestone of producing in India the 100th airframe assemblies which constitute a very complex part of the missiles.
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