Exocet long-range, all weather, multi-target and littoral warfare attack anti-ship missile system

The Indian Navy’s strategic prowess with missiles has been acknowledged ever since Operations Trident and Python during the 1971 War, which rendered the Pakistani Navy nearly inoperable and dislocated fuel and military supplies at the main port of Karachi. These tactical offensives represented the first use of anti-ship missiles (AShMs) – the Soviet-made P-15 Termit (SS-N-2 Styx) – in combat in the region, and only the second worldwide, after the sinking in 1967 of the Israeli Navy’s INS Eilat, a former Z-class destroyer of the Royal Navy, off Port Said by Egyptian missile boats, also firing the Styx missile.

The Indian Navy’s maritime battlefield has of late been revolutionised in recent years by induction of the PJ-10 BrahMos, the world’s first operational supersonic anti-ship cruise missile that has become the Navy’s prime strike weapon. The versatile two-stage BrahMos, with a solid propellant booster and a liquid propellant ramjet system is the most lethal and fastest cruise missile in the world

The Mighty BrahMos Supersonic Cruise Missile

BrahMos’s uniqueness, as also its superiority over other AShM and land attack cruise missiles worldwide, is its unmatched speed – Mach 2.8 almost three times the speed of sound – which renders it near invincible and imparts enhanced strike power. These attributes are heightened by its stealth characteristics, high accuracy, and versatility in being launched from submarines or ships as well as from aircraft or from land, in either inclined or vertical configuration, depending on the type of platform and user requirements. Both the sea and land versions weigh 3 tons and have a length of 9 metres and diameter of 50 cm, with the capacity to carry a 200 to 300 kg warhead.

The missile can hit sea-based targets beyond radar horizons and is launched from the next generation Universal Vertical Launcher Module (UVLM), also designed and developed by BrahMos Aerospace Private Limited (BAPL). BrahMos can be fired singly or in a salvo towards single or multiple targets within intervals of 2 to 2.5 seconds in varied trajectories. A salvo of 8 missiles is deemed capable of penetrating and destroying an armada of frigates with modern anti-missile defences. Its intelligent characteristics are such that it is beyond prevailing missile detection capabilities, and its mid-course guidance is provided by inertial navigation system and its terminal course guidance, by homing radar seeker. It can be supplemented with GPS/GLONASS for accuracy augmentation.

The Indian Navy began inducting first versions of BrahMos in its frontline warships from 2005 and the missile will be deployed on all its platforms that can bear it. Among those it is deployed on are two of the five 3,950-ton Rajput-class (Kashin II) guided missile destroyers (DDGs), INS Rajput and INS Ranvir, the six follow-on 3,840-ton Talwar-class guided missile frigates (FFGs), and most recently, the three Kolkata-class Project-15A DDGs. It will also equip the four Project-15B Visakhapatnam-class DDGs, first of which will enter service in July 2018 and which, at 7,400 tons, are as large as the Kolkata-class whose hull they are modelled on. Each of these two classes will have two eight-cell UVLMs for 16 BrahMos missiles.

The three Project-15 Delhi-class 6,700-ton DDGs, commissioned between 1997 and 2001, will also stable the BrahMos once these ships are modified and upgraded. While INS Rajput will be armed with four BrahMos, INS Ranvir will have eight, apart from two and four SS-N-2D Styx AShMs respectively. BrahMos can also replace the Russian 3M-54 Klub AShMs on the three 5,300-ton Project 17 Shivalik-class stealth multi-role frigates.

The maiden test firing of the submarine launched BrahMos variant was carried out vertically in March 2013 from a submerged platform. BAPL CEO and Managing Director SK Mishra describes the firing as “the very first time a supersonic cruise missile, in its full operational configuration, was test-fired vertically from an underwater platform, with the test being a 100 per cent success.” The canisterised missile, installed in a modular launcher in the pressure hull of a submarine, is launched vertically from underwater depths of 40 to 50 m. This will greatly add to the ‘offensive power’ of the vessel without compromising on its ‘defensive power’ as the torpedo tubes can be fully utilised for defence.

BAPL is working on a smaller lighter variant of BrahMos with the same operational range and payload, but only 6 m. in length and 1.4 tons in weight. Named BrahMos-NG (next generation), it is to incorporate the best of cruise missile technology and will be carried by new generation military platforms, including warships, submarines and fighter aircraft. Its first flight test is expected to be conducted in the next three to four years, before production is taken up.

The six 1,250-ton next-generation missile boats that are proposed to be constructed in India as ‘pocket battleships’ will also be armed with BrahMos. These all-new boats will replace the Navy’s ageing Prabal-class missile boats and will also be equipped with surface-to-air-missiles, close-in-weapon systems for missile interception, a main gun and point-defence guns.

An hypersonic variant of the BrahMos is also under development.

Exocet AShM

The six 1,565-ton Project-75 Scorpene class SSKs, being built indigenously under transfer of technology from French shipbuilder DCNS, will be equipped with the SM39 Exocet AShM that can be launched from its six 533 mm torpedo tubes. Built by European missile firm MBDA, the high subsonic 4.7 m long, 350 mm diameter, 655 kg AShM has a range of 50 km, can attain speeds up to Mach 0.9 and can carry 165 kg high-explosive conventional warheads. Though launched in a watertight VSM (Véhicule Sous Marin) capsule through the torpedo tubes, once in the air, the missile behaves like a standard Exocet with its sea skimming and manoeuvring advantages. The launch vessel is difficult to locate as the missile exits the water some distance from it and also does not require the submarine to rise to periscope depth for the launch. INS Kalvari, the first Scorpene boat, was launched in October 2015 and was commissioned, with subsequent boats are beig delivered at intervals of nine months.

The Exocet and, of course, the BrahMos will be deployed also on the proposed six Project-75(I) new generation stealth diesel-electric submarines, the global tender or RFP (Request For Proposal) for which is yet to be issued.

Nirbhay Subsonic Cruise Missile

DRDO's Nirbhay (‘Dauntless/Fearless’) is India’s first indigenously designed and developed long-range subsonic cruise missile which can hit targets up to 1,000 km away and capable of carrying nuclear or conventional warheads weighing from 300 to 400 kg. On the morning of 7 November 2017, India’s most complicated and troublesome strategic weapon Nirbhay finally delivered after a spate of worrying failures wrote noted defence journalist Shiv Aroor here. But in the three months since that make-or-break test, the Nirbhay program has assumed aggressive new proportions hitherto unknown outside the tiny group of weapons scientists mandated with leading the project he further wrote. This was the fifth experimental test of the homegrown missile system, thus proving its ability as a capable and reliable offensive weapon. GTRE (Gas Turbine Research Establishment) is currently steeped in developing a mini turbofan engine called "MANIK" in collaboration with the Centre for Propulsion Technology at IIT Chennai and IIT Bombay which will eventually replace the current Russian NPO Saturn 36MT mini turbofan engine.

Nirbhay, is primarily a land-attack missile, but can be converted to an anti-ship variant with ease by adding additional guidance software and hardware.

Powered by a solid rocket booster, the 6 m missile, with a diameter of 0.5 m, wing span of 2.7 m and launch weight of 1.5 tons, lifts vertically as a rocket and after the first stage separation, cruises like an aircraft. It can reach a speed of up to Mach 0.9 at altitudes 500 m and 4 km above the sea or ground and also at ‘tree-top level’ to avoid detection by enemy radar. The Tomahawk, in turn, is the most widely used cruise missile that came into its own in the first Gulf War of 1991, but the gap between cruise missiles and anti-ship missiles is narrowing as technology advances. 

Nirbhay’s system incorporates a ring laser gyroscope based inertial navigation system (RINS-16) as primary navigation and micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) based inertial navigation system (MINGS) as secondary navigation system. It can be launched from multiple platforms, including ships and submarines, aircraft and land-based vehicles/launchers and will be inducted by all the three services.

Both Nirbhay and BrahMos are very flexible and can be launched from any Indian Navy platform fitted with the UVLM. But, whereas Nirbhay can be intercepted with an appropriate SSM, once detected, the BrahMos is virtually impossible to fend off unless with a fully automated protection system of anti-missile radar-gun-missile combination. BrahMos is also brutal-impact owing to its very high velocity that packs 32 times the kinetic energy of the Tomahawk, while Nirbhay’s versatility is in its ability to carry 24 different types of payloads.

The "K" Series of Missiles

A medium-range submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM) – variedly christened Sagarika, K-15 and Dhanush, and finally code named BO5 – has been developed by DRDO and is being produced specifically for India’s first indigenous SSBN, INS Arihant, which was commissioned in August 2016. The BO5/K-15 will provide retaliatory nuclear strike capability and forms a part of India’s nuclear triad. The 6,000 ton Arihant is the first of a series of three SSBNs and measures 110 m in length and 11 m in breadth. The two follow-ons will both be larger and more advanced.

Each of these ballistic missile submarines can carry 12 of these 6.3-ton, 10.4 m long and 1 m-diameter SLBMs that can be launched from even under ice caps, and can carry a nuclear warhead of up to a ton to a range of 750 km. An underwater missile launcher was developed in 2001. The missile was first test-fired from a submersible pontoon launcher in 2007 and trials for its integration with the submarine began in 2009. A prototype was successfully test fired last November from Arihant, which also conducted the maiden test in March of a greatly advanced indigenous SLBM, code named K-4, which carried a dummy payload. Both the solid-fuelled medium range BO5 K-15 and intermediate range K-4 are from the ‘K’ series of SLBMs being developed by DRDO. The Arihant-class submarines will also be able to stow four of the 17-ton K-4s that are 12 m long, 1.3 m in diameter and can carry a 2-ton payload to targets 3,500 km away.

Other Imports

The Indian Navy has other missile imports apart from the Exocet. An abiding client for Soviet weaponry, India has various Russian-made cruise missiles in its inventory like the 3M-54E Klub (SS-N-27 Sizzler), Kh-35 Uran/3M-24 (SS-N-25 Switchblade) and Kh-31 (AS-17 Krypton). The Indian Navy was the first customer of the antiship/anti-submarine/land-attack 3M-54E Klub, a new series of short-range AShMs from the Novator Design Bureau. India’s six Talwar-class FFGs and the three Shivalik class frigates operate the 3M-54E Klub-N, the version launched from surface vessels and which can be installed in vertical launch cells or in angled missile boxes. Klub-S is launched from submarines, though what distinguishes the two versions is the design of the missile launchers and missile transport-launching containers.

Navy will be armed with both the Kh31A and Kh-35E AShMs along with the Kh-31P anti-radar missiles. Again, some 100 of these missiles were ordered by the Indian Navy in 1997, also for deployment on its Ilyushin Il-38SD aircraft and Sukhoi Su-30MKI multi-role air superiority fighter. The 4.7-m long and 610 kg Kh-31A carries a 94 kg warhead up to 70 km and skims the sea as it approaches targets. Meanwhile, the Kh31AD with 110kg warhead is offered for India has inducted a large number of the 1.5-ton Klub, which can deliver a 450 kg payload across 300 km. The weapon is powerful enough to disable even an aircraft carrier and its moderate weight allows its placement on even compact warships. Apart from its frigates, the Indian Navy has deployed the missile also on its Type 877EKM Sindhughosh-class (Kilo-class) diesel-electric submarines. An air-launched version is reportedly under development, and it is likely that the Indian Navy’s long-range, maritime patrol aircraft could eventually be armed with it.

The Kh-35 Uran, from the Tactical Missile Corporation, arms the Indian Navy’s two 3,850-ton Brahmaputra-class frigates – the third, INS Betwa, having been irreversibly damaged on 5 December while undergoing refit - and three Delhi-class destroyers. Each of these classes houses 16 of these missiles in four quadruple KT-184 launchers, angled at 30 degrees, two on either side of the bridge superstructure. All 16 Urans can be ripple-fired in 2 to 3 second intervals. Equivalent to Boeing’s Harpoon Block 1C AShM, these missiles have active radar homing (ARH) of a 130 km radius at 0.9 Mach, with a 145 kg warhead.

The multi-role MiG-29K fighter aircraft being inducted by the Indian export with an improved range of 160 km when launched at high altitude. India is also planning to equip its Shishumar-class (HDW) submarines with Harpoon missiles, the world’s most successful AShM that is in service with the armed forces of over 30 countries and which currently arms the Indian Navy’s fleet of eight Boeing P-8I ASW aircraft. Upgraded over the years and now available as the all weather, over-the-horizon, anti-ship and land-strike Harpoon Block II, four of these missiles are carried by each P-8I. Built in the 1970s by McDonnell Douglas, which merged with Boeing in 1997, the Harpoon has a low-level sea skimming cruise trajectory and incorporates key guidance technologies from two other Boeing weapons programmes – the low-cost integrated GPS/INS (global positioning system/inertial navigation system) and the software, mission computer, GPS antenna and receiver from the SLAM-ER (standoff land attack missile-expanded response). For conventional anti-ship missions, the GPS/INS improves mid-course guidance to the target area, while the accurate navigation solution helps distinguish target ships from islands or other nearby landmasses or ships.

Sarosh Bana is a senior fellow at Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS) an autonomous think tank on strategic studies and land warfare in the Indian context. Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IDN. IDN does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same