Friday, May 24, 2024

BrahMos NG & LCA Tejas Mk1A Combo: Is It Really Export Ready?

By Aritra Banerjee

The BrahMos Next-Generation missile, lighter and stealthier than the original weapon, is set to make its maiden flight within the next two years. At 1.33 tonnes apiece, this munition weighs half as much as the present air-launched variant. The missile is scheduled to have its first flight within 24 months. Production will follow suit 2-3 years after that. 

During the development phase, the BrahMos-NG is being integrated onto the SU-30 MKI. However, the plan is for it to later be integrated on LCA Tejas and other Indian Air Force fighter aircraft. The weight reduction will allow the SU-30 MKI to carry four BrahMos-NGs and the LCA Tejas to carry two as part of the weapons payload. 

New Delhi has already exported the BrahMos missile system to the Philippines in a $375 million mega defence deal, and at least 16 countries have seen the LCA Tejas as a lucrative product offering. It is in this context that IADB gathered expert opinions on how a combination of the missile and the LCA is likely to fare in the export market. 

Export Potential

Leading American defence and aerospace analyst and editor Steve Trimble acknowledged that BrahMos NG is a potent weapon on any platform. However, he was quick to point out the restrictions as well. Trimble told IADB that “BrahMos-NG requires a long-range, over-the-horizon targeting system. In many cases, it may not be possible for the Tejas to use its own sensors to find, identify, and fix targets. So any customer that acquires the Brahmos NG for Tejas will need to use or create its own system.”

“Secondly, exporting weapon systems abroad is[…]particularly hard without a meaningful commitment by the domestic operator. So potential buyers may look to see whether the Indian Air Force equips the Brahmos NG on the Tejas Mk-1A before seriously considering it.” 

Russia’s involvement in the program could add another challenge until the existing sanctions regime expires or is withdrawn. Former Vice Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal Anil Khosla (r) expanded on this. “The Brahmos project being in partnership with Russia may impose restrictions on export to a few countries. 100% Indigenous content needs to be attained. Domestic induction and utilisation are a must. The package of LCA and Brahmos needs to be showcased in all the air shows, and all the RFIs/RFPs need to be responded to.”

Former IAF Chief and current Chief Nodal Officer of the Uttar Pradesh Defence Industrial Corridor (UPDIC), Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria (r), disagreed. “The BrahMos NG as and when integrated would not need for air-to-ground applications even at long ranges…It can be [used] on pre-decided targets. With due modifications, it should be possible to designate target coordinates even in the air.” 

ACM Bhadauria further said, “the BrahMos NG for an anti-ship role, if that is integrated, there you need the ability for sensors which will be with the naval capability to pick up a target’s latest location and update. That system would be available, be required and, in any case, exist.”

He said that the IAF is already interested and will be inducting the platform and the missile. “The LCA Tejas and BrahMos NG would be a very potent combination, firstly for the IAF’s operational requirement and secondly, it would immensely change the operational capability of the LCA Tejas in terms of its suitability in other air forces,” he opined. 

Highlighting the “game-changing” advantages the potential procurement would give these countries, ACM Bhadauria said, “the current potential is good[…]it is closer home and by far the most cost-effective aircraft with this kind of capability.” 

On the subject, AM Khosla (r) said, “countries with a clash of interests with China could be potential customers[…]It would increase interoperability among them and indirectly enhance collective security. In addition to countries bordering China and the South China Sea, India should also try to export them to neighbouring countries.

Former IAF Vice Chief of the Air Staff, AM BN Ghokale (r), too, spoke along the same line. “I am hopeful that this combination is a great idea for export to South East Asian countries. It will also be good for India’s presence in the Indo-Pacific,” he told IADB. 

How Feasible Is The Integration For Export? Experts Share!

Feasibility is affected by safety aspects, audits, production capability, and punctuality. Additionally, post-sale support, maintainability, sustainability, and reliability, and the involvement and management of the private sector and MSMEs also have an impact on the viability of the integration. 

Experts revealed that while the pairing of the missile and the aircraft may not materialise in schedule with India’s ambitious $5 Billion export target, the integration is likely to happen and be sold on the global market. Senior IAF officials in the know revealed that discussions are underway with the Philippines and Malaysia. There have also been some conversations with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

Industry analysts IADB spoke to believe that the combination of the BrahMos NG with the LCA Tejas Mk1A for export would give a robust indication of where the indigenous industry stands in terms of the capability to develop such a weapon and secondly to “integrate in the smallest in weight class in terms of the LCA Mk1A, and obviously it will come up in the subsequent version that is the LCA Tejas Mk2.” 

LCA Tejas & Astra Pairing Is Another Export Opportunity

Apart from BrahMos, Bharat Dynamics Limited is slated to place the Astra Weapon System on the export market. In an earlier interaction with IADB, BDL’s Chairman and Managing Director, Commodore Siddharth Mishra (r), revealed, “the Government of India has created a lot of opportunities for the export market in the defence sector. BDL is giving a lot of thrust to export to utilise these opportunities. BDL is in regular interaction with overseas customers to expand its footprint in the international market. The company is also entering into MoUs and ToT agreements with various companies to enhance its future prospects on the export front. BDL is modernising its facilities to enhance production capacity to cater to the export demands.”

The pairing of Hindustan Aeronautic Limited’s (HAL) LCA Tejas Mk1A with BDL’s Astra Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missile could be another lucrative pairing on the export market. It is a waiting game for any significant announcements regarding missile integrations on the indigenous Tejas to enhance export prospects at Aero India 2023.

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