Launching the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile from a Sukhoi-30 combat jet has completed India’s cruise missile triad. It was in fact India taking a step into uncharted waters as IAF became the first air force in the world to successfully launch a surface attack missile of this category. The test also reflected India’s capability to launch the weapon from air, land and sea.
The unique BrahMos cruise missile can be used against different types of targets on land and sea. The recently tested version was the one launched from air (BrahMos-A). India’s cruise missile triad is also special because of the sheer speed of the BrahMos missile. The missile is able to hit Mach 3 which makes it the world’s fastest cruise missile currently in operation.
A significant increase in the speed of a cruise missile will always add to its lethal ability, as generally they do not have defensive capabilities and the chances of success are heavily linked to stealth and navigation speed. A fast missile like BrahMos gives the enemy little time to respond thus leading to higher chances of success.
The missile’s top speed allows it to hit targets with a lot of kinetic energy. During tests, it often cut warships in half and reduced ground targets to smithereens. Being launched from a Sukhoi travelling at speeds close Mach 2 adds further momentum to the missile and the aircraft’s ability to penetrate heavy air defences, boosting the chances of successful delivery of the payload.
Protecting strategic locations
The Sukhoi fighters have been modified to allow three missiles to be fired on three different targets or in combinations simultaneously. With the precise striking capabilities of the missile the armed forces can now destroy terrorist hideouts inside enemy territory, aircraft carriers, nuclear command hubs, command and control centers and other military targets from air, land and sea. It also enables India to protect its strategic interests in the face of constant threats from Pakistan and China.
According to the defence ministry, “The successful maiden test firing of BrahMos Air Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM) from Su-30MKI will significantly bolster the IAF’s air combat operations capability from stand-off ranges.” BrahMos Aerospace CEO Sudhir Mishra said that “such a capability can be a game changer for any air force in the world,” and it has the potential to shift military equilibrium in the region in India’s favour.
Writing for India Defence Review, Squadron Leader Vijainder K Thakur laid out the two big advantages BrahMos gives India. Firstly, it can be deployed and used anywhere along the land border within two-three hours of a threat arising. It could also protect India’s island territories and Sea Lines of Communication. Secondly, longer range Brahmos missiles when deployed from Sukhois (with their extensive range) could counter Chinese medium range missiles positioned in Tibet to target India. IAF could then disrupt operations by the Chinese army from airbases in Tibet which would cause China to think twice before making military manoeuvres.
Speculation is also rife that BrahMos could be modified into a missile with nuclear capabilities. This would form the air component India’s nuclear triad and would require the Sukhois to be retrofitted with hardened electronic circuitry which would be able to survive the electromagnetic pulses of a nuclear blast. It was also noted that only the air-launched version of BrahMos can be used in a nuclear role. This is because if surface-launched BrahMos is fitted with nuclear warheads, that would give launch authority to junior commanders and the nuclear warheads would be less secure.
Furthermore, a solid propellant used as booster for the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile is being developed by Pune-based High Energy Materials Research Laboratory (HEMRL) of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). HEMRL scientists said that indigenously manufactured fuel will make the production of the missile much more cost effective.
A Defence Ministry release noted that BrahMos allows India to make a mark on the weapons market. After the recent test, the BrahMos has established itself as the fastest cruise missile in the world, grabbing the attention of buyers. Foreign sales bring in more than finance, as they also stand for long-term geopolitical embrace between two nations. BrahMos can also be used to counter China’s supply of weapons to Pakistan as India can then offer BrahMos missiles to Vietnam.
Further, while the extended version of the missile (with range beyond 400 kilometres) can only be sold to certain countries owing to Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) regulations, BrahMos-A has a range of 290 kilometres which falls below the MTCR limit of 300 kilometres. BrahMos-A can thus be sold to countries like Vietnam, UAE, Chile etc. which are outside the MTCR.