NEW DELHI: The Brahmos air-to-surface cruise missile tested by the defence establishment on Wednesday afternoon is designed to arm India’s military with the capability to fire stand-off weapons, rockets that can target the positions of an adversary from outside it’s defensive shield.
India’s defence establishment has claimed a technological feat after a Sukhoi 30 Mki fighter aircraft of the Indian Air Force “gravity-dropped” a Brahmos from its fuselage. Footage released by the IAF, and shot from an escort plane, showed the missile in free fall before its engine firing and propelling it towards a target.
The objective was a Battle Practice Target (BPT) set up by the Indian Navy in the Bay of Bengal. A BPT for such tests is usually a screen attached to a floating pontoon. The screen is made up of wire-mesh with diamond-shaped metal plates to reflect radar signatures. IAF sources claimed the missile hit bull’s-eye. But the range from which it was fired was not spelt out. The Sukhoi had taken-off from Kalaikunda air-force station in West Bengal.
The air-launched Brahmos is capable of a range of more than 400 kms, said a source in the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
The Brahmos, originally developed as a surface-launched anti-ship missile was first tested by the navy in 2003. It has now evolved into an air-launched variant. In its surface-launched version the missile was first developed for a range of 290-kilometres.
The technological feat for the air-launched variant required the missile to be miniaturized and designed for firing from a platform, the Sukhoi 30Mki, that was not originally developed for such a weapon. Among the strategic gains that defence planners count are the fact the Brahmos is a joint venture between India and Russia and can now be fired from a Russian-origin fighter of the IAF. This makes India less dependent on western powers that have a history of imposing sanctions through a technology-denial regime.
The Brahmos is said to be supersonic, unlike the US-made Tomahawk that is also a cruise missile but is sub-sonic. Pakistan and China also have Air Launched Cruise Missiles (ALCMs) being developed.
The joint India-Russia makers claim the Brahmos to be the world’s fastest. Unlike a ballistic missile that mostly flies straight from the launch to the target, a cruise missile can be guided.
The air-launched version that was tested for the first time today, two years behind schedule, will require more tests before it is inducted. But, theoretically, it will give the air force the strategic depth to conceal India’s responses to a hostile situation away from the borders. In other words it can equip the IAF with the ability to launch “aerial surgical strikes”.
For example, in one scenario, a Sukhoi 30 MKi taking off from from Hyderabad – that is beyond the reach of an adversary’s radars -- armed with a Brahmos can fly near the western or northern borders and launch the missile at pre-designated targets without crossing into adversarial airspace.
The Sukhoi is capable of flying at a maximum speed that is twice the speed of sound (mach 2). The Brahmos’ maximum speed is 2.8, nearly three times the speed of sound.
“The successful maiden test firing of the Brahmos Air Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM) from Su-30MKI will significantly bolster the IAF’s air combat operations capability from stand-off ranges. Brahmos ALCM weighing 2.5 ton is the heaviest weapon to be deployed on India’s Su-30 fighter aircraft modified by HAL to carry weapons. Brahmos, the world-class weapon with multi-platform, multi-mission role is now capable of being launched from Land, Sea and Air, completing the tactical cruise missile triad for India. Brahmos is a joint venture between DRDO of India and NPOM of Russia,” said the statement. A Sukhoi 30Mki is capable of carrying payloads (bombs and missiles) up to 8 tonnes.
Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman congratulated DRDO and BrahMos.