Weapon of Choice

Air launch BrahMos-A is ready to be tested end 2017

Pravin Sawhney

The supersonic BrahMos cruise missile air launch version (BrahMos-A) will be test-firing by the end of this year. This was disclosed by the air force chief, Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa at the customary media interaction on October 5 to mark the Air Force Day.

Brahmos On Su30 MKI

With this test being successful, the air launch version would enter the air force completing the trio of the anti-ship version with the navy and the land-attack version with the army. It is important that this test, preparations for which have been made since 2012, be held on time as it would initiate induction of technologies critical for cruise missiles which would be the game-changers for deterrence and war-fighting.

A single BrahMos-A fired from the Su-30MKI aircraft will witness a 300kg warhead going at a speed of 2.8 Mach hitting a naval target (an abandoned ship) at 400km range with pin-point accuracy (zero Circular Error Probability, or CEP) with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) radars recording the entire event. It could be argued that what is the big deal if the Su-30MKI flying close to Mach 2 speed with a range of 3,000km and payload carrying capacity of 8,000kg (eight tonne) is used to throw a single BrahMos-A missile onto the sea-target? The big deal would be that with zero accuracy error, BrahMos-A would provide excellent stand-off maritime strike capability and lethality when launched from air close to Andamans and Nicobar Islands (where India has the Andaman and Nicobar Command) to cover the Straits of Malacca, the key choke point that connects the Western Pacific with the Indian Ocean. India, thus, would have acquired the capability to both seek (through its P-8I aircraft) and kill hostile vessels entering what it considers its backyard where the Indian Navy is the net security provider.

Moreover, this would be just the beginning. The next step would be simultaneous work on three fronts: equipping 40 Su-30MKI with this capability; miniaturisation of BrahMos-A to BrahMos-NG (Next Generation), work on which has begun with Russia and is expected to be accomplished by 2021; and indigenisation of two key technologies – propulsion and seeker – which will have a wider application in the sub-sonic Nirbhay cruise missile which, being built by the DRDO, is at present, not much of a success.

The radar, seeker and propulsion technologies of BrahMos-A come from Russia. It uses a mono-pulse X-band Imaging Synthetic Aperture Radar which is better than the Terrain Contour Matching (TERCOM) radar used in cruise missiles the world over. All cruise missiles flying at sub-sonic (less than sound) speeds are designed to be terrain-hugging since they are required to evade enemy radars by flying low over large distances. Given this, they have TERCOM which continuously maps the terrain and matches it with its own stored data to reach the target. Since BrahMos is the only cruise missile with super-sonic (more than sound) speed, it travels at about 16km above sea-level. It uses this special radar which gets its updates from the GPS/Russian GLONASS and flies across many way-points (where the flight changes its path instead of the traditional trajectory which can be monitored) to evade enemy radars. Because of this peculiarity, and the super-sonic speed, BrahMos is impossible to be intercepted.

The BrahMos seeker – seeker SGH – is made by the Russian company, Granite Joint Stock Company. It has the capability for accurate terminal guidance, where the seeker takes over from the GPS supported radar to hit the target. DRDO is developing an indigenous seeker which involves numerous domestic companies especially Data Pattern and ECIL. Once done, the seeker will be an Indian IPR design which can freely be used in other applications. It is for this reason that the DRDO did not take up the European MBDA company’s offer for transfer of seeker technology as part of the, now abandoned, joint-development and production Maitri short-range surface to air missile programme.

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