Wednesday, October 4, 2023

BrahMos Supersonic Cruise Missile-Superlative Weapon For ‘Cruise Missile Triad’

By Air Marshal SBP Sinha (r)

Introduction: Modern Air Defence (AD) systems continue to constantly evolve with induction of radars and weapons with advanced technologies with an aim to improve their interception capabilities with networked operations to counter all types of aerial threats. This has led to a contest between AD systems and fighters employing stand-off weapons. Stand-off weapons are now being launched from long-ranges to keep the attacking aircraft away from the envelope of the AD systems defending the target. Consequently, AD systems are now being inducted to intercept and neutralise stand-off weapons. Advancements in technology in both areas are continuously changing the dynamics of this contest, with each side trying to beat and outsmart the other.

Cruise Missiles: Cruise missiles are very long-range stand-off weapons that have advanced guidance systems and can fly a variety of flight trajectories at subsonic or supersonic speed to deliver precision attack on its target at ranges of a few hundred kilometres. Cruise missiles can be launched from land, air, ship and submarine and they fly within earth’s atmosphere using jet engine for propulsion. Thus, long stand-off range of the cruise missiles ensures safety to the launch platform from AD weapons. However, modern AD systems have the capability to detect, track and intercept subsonic cruise missiles and largely dilute their threat.

Brahmos Supersonic Cruise Missile: BrahMos is a highly capable all weather, day and night supersonic cruise missile made in India. It is a two-stage missile. A solid propellant booster, its first stage, accelerates it to supersonic speed and then gets separated. The liquid ramjet, its second stage, takes the missile closer to Mach 3 speed during its cruise to the target. BrahMos has a range of up to 290 km with supersonic speed being maintained throughout the flight. It is designed to carry a conventional warhead weighing 200 – 300 kg. It’s very high kinetic energy on impact further enhances the destructive power of its warhead. The missile is designed for ‘Fire and Forget’ operations. Its cruising altitude could go up to 15 km and terminal height as low as 10 meters. BrahMos missiles can be launched from land, air, ship, and submarine. 

Salient Capabilities: The salient capabilities of BrahMos missile are:-

  • It maintains high supersonic speed throughout its flight.
  • It has a combat range of 290 km.
  • The missile can be pre-programmed for numerous sets of flight trajectories and attack profiles.
  • The missile is designed for ‘Fire and Forget’ operations.
  • Short flying time of the missile leads to lower target dispersion and quicker engagement.
  • The missile is designed to achieve ‘pin-point’ accuracy.
  • The missile causes extensive destruction due to its lethal warhead being assisted by the very high kinetic energy at the time of impact.
  • The missile has stealth features to present a low radar cross-section. 
  • Compared to existing subsonic cruise missiles BrahMos missile has 3 times more velocity, 9 times more kinetic energy, 3 – 4 times more seeker range and much higher range.
  • Universal missile for land, air, ship, and submarine platforms.

Mission Execution: BrahMos missile incorporates advanced guidance system and embedded software to provide the missile its special capabilities to execute high manoeuvres and steep dive attack. The missile uses inertial navigation system coupled with satellite navigation system for its mid-course guidance. An active radar seeker with advance target discrimination capabilities provides extremely accurate terminal guidance to acquire and home-on to the target. The pre-launch mission preparation enables the planners to feed its navigation route in three dimensions, which enables programming of the missiles route in the horizontal plane coupled with required height changes in the elevation plane between 10 meters to up to 15 km along with the ideal attack profile against the chosen target. 

Stealth: The missile is designed for stealth by minimising its radar cross-section and its low radar signature results in its detection by radar at extremely close ranges. BrahMos missile’s low radar signature, nearly Mach 3 speed and low-altitude flight capability enables it to swiftly reach its target. In this process, AD radars get extremely less time to react for detecting, tracking its trajectory, and launching a weapon to engage and destroy it. MANPADS are no threat to the missile as they would hear and see it only after it has gone past. Thus, intercepting BrahMos missile poses very serious challenges and it is nearly impossible for current AD systems to counter it. 

Lethality: BrahMos is the world’s deadliest supersonic cruise missile that is designed to attack targets at sea and on land beyond the radar horizon. The missile has repeatedly demonstrated its maximum range, ultimate speed, pin-point accuracy and lethal firepower to annihilate targets within no time during all trial firings conducted from land, air, ship, and submarine. The missile has successfully demonstrated its performance and capabilities during land-to-land, sea-to-sea, sea-to-land, air-to-sea, and air-to-land missions. The missile has also successfully proven its ‘salvo’ launch capability to strike a single or more targets located in different directions. In ‘salvo’ mode, the missile can be launched within an interval of 2-2.5 seconds along various trajectories culminating in distinct attack profiles. The land-to-land and air-to-land versions of the missile have successfully demonstrated their capability to engage targets in all types of terrains including targets at high altitude in mountains. 

Ship Launched Version: Ship launched version of BrahMos missile is designed for launch from a moving or static ship in either vertical or inclined mode to attack both sea and land targets. The formidable BrahMos missile provides unparalleled outreach and flexibility to the Navy to undertake both littoral and high sea missions with agility and ease. The fire control system and launcher of BrahMos get inter-connected with the ship’s navigation system and sensors. The ship acquires salvo launch capability, wherein it could fire multiple missiles along different flight trajectories and attack profiles to hit a single or a group of targets. Indian Navy has successfully deployed BrahMos missile on its frontline combat ships, including destroyers and frigates, as the ‘prime strike weapon’ since 2005. Indian Navy has successfully tested and validated the capabilities of ship launched version of BrahMos missile against various types of targets at sea and on land.

Land Launched Version: Land launched version of BrahMos missile comprises of 4 – 6 Mobile Autonomous Launchers (MAL) controlled by a single Mobile Command Post (MCP). MCP is a state-of-the-art all-terrain high mobility vehicle with advanced Command & Control (C2) system capable of operating in C4I environment along with its required power supply. MAL is a state-of-the-art all-terrain high mobility vehicle having three missiles in ready-to-launch configuration housed in containers and it is equipped with most modern communication systems, radar receivers for target information, and an ultra-advanced fire control system for coordinating the launch along with its required power supply. MAL and MCP have airconditioned control crew cabin with NBC protection. The three missiles on each MAL could be fired near simultaneously on a single or three different targets or in any other target combination along varied flight trajectories and attack profiles. The entire configuration is modular capable of adjusting itself to the user or equipment, based on the threat perception. From horizontal position for transportation, the missiles containers of MAL are brought to vertical position for launch through a high-pressure hydraulic system. Indian Army inducted and deployed many land launched version BrahMos regiments since 2007 and has successfully tested and validated the capabilities of BrahMos missile against various types of land-based targets in all types of terrains including high altitude mountainous terrain.

Air Launched Version: The highly advanced BrahMos Air Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM) is designed for precision attack against both sea and land targets from the air. BrahMos ALCM is a modified variant of the original anti-ship BrahMos missile configuration wherein the missile’s weight has been reduced by around 500-kg and its airframe modified to feature a lighter propulsion system, an improved nose cone and fins, and additional aerodynamic surfaces to give it better stability and controllability in the early stages of flight after launch from the fighter aircraft. The ALCM weighs 2.5 ton and has emerged as the most powerful conventional air launched weapon in terms of range, firepower, lethality, and effectiveness. BrahMos ALCM is successfully integrated and operationalised on the Sukhoi-30MKI fighter aircraft of Indian Air Force. Indian Air Force has successfully tested and validated the capabilities of BrahMos ALCM against various types of targets at sea and on land. The missile is pre-programmed for its flight trajectory and the attack profile before launch. With deployment of BrahMos ALCM armed Sukhoi-30MKI fighter aircraft, India became the first and only country in the world to complete the ‘Supersonic Cruise Missile Triad’, which includes land, ship, and air, launched versions.

Submarine Launched Version: BrahMos missile is capable of being launched from a submarine from a depth of 40-50 metres. The missile can be installed in a modular launcher vertically in the pressure hull of the submarine. The missile has identical configuration like the ship-based system. The canisterised missile is launched vertically, the nose cap prevents water from entering the ‘air-intake’ during the underwater flight. Once the missile emerges from the water, the sensors provide the ‘out of water command’ and the nose cap is fired for turning the missile in the desired direction towards the target. The submarine launched version of BrahMos missile is already developed, and successfully tested and validated against sea targets. submarine launched version of BrahMos missile is now available for integration on any submarine. 

BrahMos Configurations: BrahMos missile has identical configurations for land, ship and submarine platforms and uses a Transport Launch Canister for transportation, storage, and launch. The BrahMos ALCM has undergone minor changes to adapt it for air launch. The commonality amongst all types of missiles helps in establishing a common, cost-effective, and efficient inventory management system and a common maintenance training establishment for personnel of land, air, ship, and submarine platforms. 

BrahMos NG (Next Generation): BrahMos-NG is a miniaturised version of the current BrahMos missile. BrahMos-NG retains all capabilities including the 290 km range and near Mach 3 speed but has reduced length and diameter making it lighter in weight. By virtue of its reduced size, BrahMos-NG has even lower radar cross-section making it even harder for AD systems to detect and engage it. Advancement in technology helps BrahMos-NG to carry miniaturised and more advanced avionics and sensers. It is being developed in land, air, ship, and submarine launched versions. BrahMos-NG weighing 1.5 ton or lesser will help its integration on more types of fighter fleets and it could also be carried in larger numbers on fighter aircraft and submarines. The missile is likely to start its qualifying trials in 2024.

BrahMos-II: BrahMos-II, a hypersonic cruise missile, is currently under development. The missile is likely to have a range of over 600 km and cruise at nearly Mach 7-8 speed. The hypersonic speed will nullify the ability of AD systems to intercept the missile and provide it extremely high kinetic energy to augment the warhead for annihilating the target.

Conclusion: Made in India BrahMos supersonic cruise missile is a game changer today because of its audacious capability to execute extremely precise attacks against targets defended by most complex and lethal AD systems both at sea and on land. The 290 km stand-off capability ensures safety of the launch platform. Its versatility to change its trajectory in three dimensions and execute varied attack profiles makes it totally unpredictable. Its warhead lethality gets further augmented by its very high kinetic energy. Many foreign countries have evinced interest in procuring BrahMos supersonic cruise missile. Besides India, Philippines has inducted and very successfully operationalised BrahMos supersonic cruise missile in its Armed Forces. The capabilities of BrahMos supersonic cruise missile and the commonality amongst its usage amongst Army, Navy and Air Force makes it a weapon of choice that could help a country develop a ‘Supersonic Cruise Missile Triad’ to defend its sovereignty strongly and astutely.  

Air Mshl. SBP Sinha (r) is former Deputy Chief of Air Staff and Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Central Air Command. He currently holds the DRDO Chair (Prof MGK Menon Chair)

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