India’s successful test-launch of the nuclear-capable, intercontinental, surface-to-surface ballistic missile, Agni-V on September 15, 2013, following the April 2012 launch of the 5,000 kms range version of the same Agni-5 by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is again a significant achievement.
DRDO’s inventory of missiles coupled with the versions of BrahMos missiles places India in the top league with China, France, Russia, the US, Britain and Israel. On February 19, 2013, BrahMos Aerospace celebrated “Aardhik Diwas” — Partnership Day — to commemorate 15 years of missile making. “BrahMos is a formidable weapon system. It has offered more punch and strike capability for the three services. We owe it all to Dr A.S. Pillai, CEO & MD, BrahMos Aeropsace and Dr A.G. Leonov, director general, NPOM. It is because of the zeal and enthusiasm of Dr Pillai that we have reached this stage,” remarked Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne, Air Chief and Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee.
Coined as a combination of Brahmaputra and Moscva rivers, this is a versatile supersonic cruise missile system launchable from submarines, ships, aircraft or land, which was successfully accomplished by 2006. At speeds of Mach 2.5 to 2.8, it is the world’s fastest cruise missile, about three and a half times faster than the American subsonic Harpoon cruise missile. BrahMos, with a maximum range of 290 km, can attack surface targets by flying as low as 10 metres over surface-level and can gain a speed of Mach 2.8. The ship-launched and land-based missiles can carry a 200 kg warhead, whereas the aircraft-launched variant, BrahMos A, can carry a 300 kg warhead. The high speed of the BrahMos likely gives it better target-penetration characteristics than lighter subsonic cruise-missiles such as the Tomahawk.
Being twice as heavy and almost four times faster than the Tomahawk, the BrahMos has more than 32 times the on-cruise kinetic energy of a Tomahawk missile, although it carries only 3/5th the payload and a fraction of the range despite weighing twice as much, which suggests that the missile was designed with a different tactical role. Its Mach 2.8 speed means that it cannot be intercepted by some existing missile defence systems and its precision makes it lethal to water targets or those in a cluster.
- BrahMos was first test-fired on June 12, 2001 from the Integrated Test Range (ITR), Chandipur, in a vertical launch configuration.
- On March 5, 2008, the land attack version of the missile was fired from the destroyer INS Rajput and the missile hit and destroyed the selected target amidst a cluster of targets.
- The missile was vertically launched on December 18, 2008, from INS Ranvir.
- On March 4, 2009, BrahMos was tested again with a new navigation system, found successful and then test-fired yet again on March 29, 2009. For this test, the missile had to identify a building among a cluster of buildings in an urban environment. It successfully hit the intended target within two-and-a-half minutes of launch. What made a quantum difference was the new “seeker,” considered unique and capable of seeking targets, which may be insignificant in terms of size, in a cluster of large buildings. India is now the only nation in the world with this advanced technology. After the third test, the Indian Army confirmed that the test was extremely successful and approved the missile. This marked the completion of development phase of BrahMos Block-II.
- On March 21, 2010, BrahMos was test-fired and struck a free-floating ship piercing it above the waterline and destroying it completely. The test proved the missile’s manoeuvrability at supersonic speed before hitting a target, making India the first and only country to have a manoeuvrable supersonic cruise missile.
- On September 5, 2010, BrahMos created a world record for being the first cruise missile to be tested at supersonic speeds in a steep-dive mode, achieving the Army’s requirement for land attacks with Block-II “advanced seeker software” along with “target discriminating capabilities.” BrahMos became the only supersonic cruise missile possessing advanced capability of selection of a particular land target amongst a group of targets, providing the user with an important edge of precision without collateral damage.
- The Block III version of the missile was successfully test-fired on December 2, 2010, from ITR, Chandipur, with advanced guidance and upgraded software, incorporating high manoeuvres at multiple points and steep dive from high altitude. The steep dive capability of the Block III enables it to hit targets hidden behind a mountain range.
On August 12, 2011, it was test-fired by ground forces and met all mission parameters.
- On March 4, 2012, it was test-fired by an Indian Army unit at the Pokharan range in Rajasthan to operationalise the second regiment of the weapon system in the Army. With this test, attended by top brass including vice chief Lt. Gen. Shri Krishna Singh and Director General Military Operations (DGMO) Lt. Gen. A.K. Chaudhary, the second BrahMos unit of the Indian Army became operational.
- On October 7, 2012, the Indian Navy successfully test-fired BrahMos from the guided missile frigate INS Teg. This new highly manoeuvrable version was fitted with advanced satellite navigation systems turning it into a “super-rocket” capable of hitting targets over 300–500 km from sea, land and air launchers, and capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.
- The submarine-launched variant of Brahmos was test fired successfully for the first time from a submerged pontoon near Visakhapatnam at the coast of Bay of Bengal on 20 March 2013. This was the first vertical launch of a supersonic missile from a submerged platform. The missile can be launched from a depth of 40 to 50 meters.
- The purchase of over 200 air-launched BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles for the IAF was cleared by Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) on October 19, 2012, at the cost of `6,000 crore ($1 billion). This includes funds for the integration and testing of the BrahMos on IAF’s Su-30MKI. Two Su-30MKI modified by the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited at its Nashik facility where they will also be integrated with the missile’s aerial launcher. The trial is expected to be conducted in early 2014.
- Under development is a smaller variant of the air-launched BrahMos, to arm the Sukhoi Su-30MKI, Mirage 2000, future induction like the 126 Dassault Rafale, and the Indian Navy’s MiG-29K. A model of the new variant was showcased on 20 February 2013, at the 15th anniversary celebrations of BrahMos Aerospace. This smaller version is three metres shorter than the present missile will also have a range of 290 km. The Sukhoi SU-30MKI will carry three missiles while other combat aircraft will carry one each. BrahMos is reportedly attempting a hypersonic Mach 8 version of the missile, BrahMos II, the first ever hypersonic cruise missile, expected to be ready soon. Former President of India, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam has reportedly recommended to BrahMos Aerospace to develop an advanced hypersonic version of the BrahMos cruise missile to maintain India’s lead in the field.