A look at the supersonic cruise missile, the significance of its land, sea, and air-launched versions and the strategic posturing behind the ongoing series of tests in the light situation with China and of competition in the strategically important Indian Ocean Region

India’s Armed forces – Army, Navy, and the Air Force – are conducting back-to-back tests of various versions of BrahMos missile. A look at the supersonic cruise missile, the significance of its land, sea, and air-launched versions and the strategic posturing behind the ongoing series of tests in the light situation with China and of competition in the strategically important Indian Ocean Region.

What Is The Brahmos Missile Which The Tri-Services Are Testing?

A combination of the names of Brahmaputra and Moskva rivers, BrahMos missiles are designed, developed and produced by BrahMos Aerospace, a joint venture company set up by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Mashinostroyenia of Russia. Various versions of the BrahMos, including those which can be fired from land, warships, submarines and Sukhoi-30 fighter jets have already been developed and successfully tested in the past. The earliest versions of the ship launched BrahMos and land-based system are in service of the Indian Navy and the Indian Army since 2005 and 2007 respectively.

BrahMos is a two-stage missile with solid propellant booster as first stage and liquid ramjet as the second stage. The cruise missiles like BrahMos are a type of systems known as the ‘standoff range weapons’ which are fired from a range sufficient to allow the attacker to evade defensive fire from the adversary. These weapons are in the arsenal of most major militaries in the world. The versions of the BrahMos that are being tested have an extended range of around 400 kilometres, as compared to its initial range of 290 kilometres, with more versions of higher ranges currently under development.

What Is The Significance of Having Land, Sea And Air-Launched Brahmos?

The land-based system: The land-based Brahmos Complex has four to six mobile autonomous launchers, with each having three missiles on board that can be fired almost simultaneously. Batteries of the BrahMos missile land based systems have been deployed along India’s land borders in various theatres.

The land attack version of BrahMos has the capability of cruising at 2.8 Mach speed and with the upgraded capability, the missile can hit targets at a range of up to 400 kilometres with precision. Advanced versions of range above 1,000 kilometres and speed u pto 5 Mach are said to be under development.

Ship-based system: The Indian Navy began inducting BrahMos on its frontline warships from 2005, and has capability to hit sea-based targets beyond radar horizon. The Naval version has been successful time and again in sea-to-sea and sea-to-land modes. The BrahMos from ship can be launched as a single unit or in a salvo up to eight in numbers separated by 2.5 seconds intervals. These salvos can hit and destroy a group of frigates having modern missile defence systems. BrahMos as a ‘prime strike weapon’ for the ships significantly increases their capability of engaging naval surface targets at long ranges.

The Air launched version: On November 22, 2017, Brahmos was successfully flight-tested for the first time from the IAF frontline fighter aircraft Sukhoi-30MKI against a sea-based target in the Bay of Bengal and has since been successfully tested multiple times.

BrahMos equipped Sukhoi-30s – which have a range of 1,500 kilometres at a stretch without mid-air refuelling – are considered as key strategic deterrence for the adversaries both along the land borders and in the strategically important Indian Ocean Region. IAF is said to be integrating BrahMos with 40 Sukhoi-30 fighter jets across the various bases.

The submarine launched version: This version has capability of being launched from around 50 meters below the water surface. The canister stored missile is launched vertically from the pressure hull of the submarine and uses different settings for underwater and out of the water flights. This version was successfully tested first in March 2013 from a submerged platform off the coast of Visakhapatnam.

What Are The Ongoing Series of Tests And The Strategic Posturing Behind It?

On November 24, the Indian Army successfully launched its BrahMos from Car Nicobar Islands in a ‘top-attack’ configuration hitting a target in Bay Bengal. The launch was first in the series of launches of the various versions of missile in coming days in a display of India’s tactical cruise missile triad. Tuesday’s test was followed by two tests — one by the Army and another by IAF — on Wednesday. More tests including those of Naval versions are also slated to take place.

Explaining the significance of these tests, a retired IAF commander said, “While the tests of land, ship and air launched BrahMos have been done time and again, it is rare that they are being tested back-to-back that too in the Indian Ocean Region. These tests certainly project India’s firm strategic posture in the light of situations along the LAC and China ambitions in the Indian Ocean Region. We also need to understand the importance of these live tests from the preparedness point of view. Each test helps these service formations fine-tune their practices, methods and do course correction if needed. Three services doing it back to back also have a tri-service integration significance where land, air and sea assets work in tandem and display a joint deterrence.”

He added, “Land based BrahMos formations along the borders, BrahMos equipped Sukhoi-30s at bases in Northern theatre and and Southern peninsula, and BrahMos capable ships deployed in sea — complete a triad and their successful tests are a strong message to China.”