On 12 June 2001, a relatively unknown missile, jointly developed by India and Russia, blasted off from its canister at the Integrated Test Range of the Defence Research and Development Organisation in Orissa’s Chandipur and roared majestically into a clear sky breathing out orange plume and leaving behind a cloud of smoke. It was, perhaps, the first time that the defence minister and all the service chiefs were present to witness the test launch of a missile.
Twenty years later, this missile — BrahMos — has evolved, as its makers say, into a ‘brahmastra’, becoming a critical component of the offensive firepower of the Indian Army and the Indian Navy. The Indian Air Force is close to inducting its air-launched version, and the missile may even find a foreign buyer soon.
The Block-I of land-based version of the BrahMos was tested in the mid-2000s. By June 2007, the Indian Army had inducted the first missiles into its arsenal.
According to BrahMos Aerospace, one land-based weapon complex of the cruise missile has four to six mobile launchers, a mobile command post and a mobile replenishment vehicle. Each autonomous launcher has three canisters.
“The missiles can be fired in single or salvo of 2 to 3 seconds within four minutes of receiving command,” the maker of the missile says.
As Block-I version of the missile did not have the desired precision, owing to its inferior seeker, a new version of the missile — Block-II — was developed. This version, which has a more precise guidance system, was first test-fired in 2008.
In 2010, a new version of the missile, based on the army’s need for precision targeting in mountainous terrain, where targets are often located behind natural barriers, was tested for the first time. The changes required for this in the missile’s guidance software were incorporated in Block-III of the missile.
This version of the missile is capable of steep diving into valleys after flying over ridge lines, making it suitable for use along India’s mountainous border.
By 2016, this version of the BrahMos missile was tested for 65-degree steep dive. In 2019, it was tested for vertical steep dive.
India reportedly has three regiments of the BrahMos with Block-I and II missiles. In 2018, the government gave a go-ahead for the induction and deployment of a fourth regiment of the BrahMos in Arunachal Pradesh. This regiment of BrahMos will be equipped with the steep dive version of the missile.
The Indian Navy was the first to identify the potential of the BrahMos missile. In 2003, destroyer INS Rajput was fitted with four missiles, two on each side in inclined configuration. It was inducted by the navy in 2005.
The navy uses both anti-ship and land-attack versions of the missile. The land-attack version was test-fired for the first time by the navy from INS Rajput in 2008, giving it the capability of hitting coastal installations of the enemy.
Apart from some Rajput-class destroyers, the navy uses BrahMos cruise missiles on Talwar-class, Shivalik-class, and Nilgiri-class frigates, Kolkata-class and Visakhapatnam-class destroyers for both anti-ship and land-attack roles.
The navy has demonstrated the capability to fire the missile in salvo mode, “in which warships carrying the BrahMos can fire eight missiles at an enemy flotilla, two seconds apart, each targeting a different enemy warship”.
BrahMos Aerospace has also developed a submarine-launched variant of the missile, which was test-fired for the first time in 2013. The submarine-launched version, the maker says, can be launched from a depth of 40 to 50 metres.
In December 2020, reports said the Indian Navy will buy 38 extended range BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles. The extended range version of the missile, which the Navy will get, is capable of hitting targets as far as 450 km away.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) test-fired the missile from a modified Su-30MKI three times — first in 2017, second in May 2019 and the third in October 2019.
The air-launched version of the missile, lighter than other versions, weighs around 2.5 tonnes. The SU-30MKI fighters of the IAF, which will carry the missile, will have to be modified. Avionics of the fighter will have to be modified and the aircraft structure strengthened.
Earlier this year, the IAF deployed No. 222 Squadron ‘Tigersharks’ at Air Force Station Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu. The squadron is being equipped with SU-30 MKIs capable of carrying BrahMos missiles.
BrahMos Aerospace is also developing an ‘NG’ version of the missile for the IAF. According to Livefist, Su-30MKIs will be capable of three BrahMos-NGs.
In March this year, Su-30MKIs armed with BrahMos missiles took part in an exercise with the US in the Indian Ocean. The exercise gave the BrahMos-armed squadron, based at Thanjavur, an opportunity to practice maritime strike.
Increased Range And Indigenisation
After India became a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime, BrahMos Aerospace started working on increasing the range of the missile.
A large part of the missile has also been indigenised. By 2018, the missile had reached 65 per cent indigenisation by value from 10-12 per cent in early years.
“In another six months, we would be close to 75 per cent,” BrahMos Aerospace managing director and CEO Sudhir Mishra said in May 2018.
In March 2018, BrahMos was tested with an indigenous seeker developed by BrahMos Aerospace in partnership with the Defence Research and Development Laboratory and made by Electronic Corporation of India Limited. Two private companies were also part of the development of the indigenous seeker.
High Energy Materials Research Laboratory of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is developing a special solid propellant to be used as fuel by BrahMos. Work on the programme was started in view of Russia’s reluctance to share the technology for solid propellants with India.
The indigenous seeker being developed for BrahMos is likely to be ready within a year, the chief executive officer and managing director of BrahMos Aerospace, Sudhir Mishra, had said in an interview with Livefist recently.
The missile has been tested with an India seeker, Mishra had said, adding that the indigenous effort has already been successful to a “great extent”.
“We have conducted two tests, one on land and the other one to target a ship, and we have been successful to a great extent,” Mishra said.
“I feel it shouldn’t take us more than six months or eight months to come up with a production prototype [of the seeker]. Then we will go for serial production,” Mishra told Livefist in an interview on the blog’s YouTube channel yesterday.
“Maybe within a year, we will be able to deliver the production version of the seeker,” he said, adding that the seeker BrahMos Aerospace is currently working on is a radio frequency (RF) seeker. The agency will also be able to deliver an imaging seeker for the missile in another two years, Mishra added.
The BrahMos Aerospace CEO also confirmed that work on extending the range of the missile is under way, adding that the range and capability of the existing inventory can also be improved without much effort.
“In the existing inventory, we can extend the range and capability without much effort,” he said, adding, “To improve the range of the missile, we have to improve the propulsion power of the engine, and that we have done.”
At least seven tests of various versions of the BrahMos missile were conducted between September and December last year.
The first of these tests took place on 30 September 2020. The second launch, conducted by the Navy from INS Chennai, took place on 18 October.
On 30 October, the missile was test-fired from an Indian Air Force Su-30MKI. The fourth test, conducted by the Army, took place on 24 November. The next day, on 25 November, the missile was test-fired in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
First Export Customer Soon
The Philippines could soon become the first export customer of the BrahMos cruise missile as New Delhi and Manila signed an agreement for the export of Indian defence equipment to the country in March 2021.
The agreement, which comes following years of negotiations, was signed by Indian Ambassador Shambu Kumaran and Philippines Defence Undersecretary Raymund Elefante at the headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
“We are buying the BrahMos missiles,” Defence Secretary of Philippines Delfin Lorenzana said, adding that the agreement signed by the two sides deals with “policies and procedures in defence procurement”.