Scientific Advisor to Raksha Mantri and former Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) Chairman Dr G Satheesh Reddy reflects on the BrahMos Journey– from a concept to a world-class weapon system– in this exclusive interview with Indian Aerospace & Defence’s Editorial Director, Kamal Shah.
Q. You have been associated with BrahMos since day one. Please share your experiences of the initial days?
I have had the privilege of being associated with BrahMos since its inception. During those early years, India had made significant strides in missile technologies through the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP). This programme gave us valuable insights into missile design, propulsion systems, guidance systems, materials science, and more. It involved collaborations between various government departments, research organisations, academia and defence industries, resulting in the development of missiles such as Prithvi, Agni, and Akash.
However, it was a remark made by Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, the visionary leader who spearheaded India’s missile programmes, which truly set the course for BrahMos. Dr Kalam questioned why every time we achieve success, we were becoming only the sixth, or seventh nation in the world to possess such capabilities. He challenged us to aim to become the first nation in the world to develop a specific system.
This statement by Dr Kalam ignited a sense of purpose in all of us. We embarked on a journey to set ourselves a remarkable goal, firmly believing that it could be achieved. Our aim was to develop a game-changing missile system with superior precision and capabilities beyond what had been previously envisioned. We aspired to create a world-class futuristic weapon system.
As we delved into the process of identifying the systems to be developed and how to develop them, the potential of supersonic cruise missiles was recognised. This class of missiles had not been fully explored before, and we saw it as an opportunity to establish ourselves as pioneers. Russia is seen as a strong potential partner to develop such a supersonic cruise missile. In honour of the two great rivers, the Brahmaputra in India and Moskva in Russia, the missile was aptly named “BrahMos.”
Dr A. Sivathanu Pillai was assigned to lead the programme, and the BrahMos missile became the highest priority among multiple projects underway at the missile complex.
The initial stages of the project involved intensive brainstorming sessions among various DRDO labs and discussions with Russian specialists. We collaborated closely to determine the technical configuration, specifications, work distribution, and every intricate detail required for the development of the missile systems. This is a glimpse into the early days of BrahMos, where a bold vision and collaborative efforts paved the way for the development of a supersonic cruise missile that would put India at the forefront of missile technology. The journey from concept to realisation was filled with challenges, but the dedication, ingenuity, and relentless pursuit of excellence by the entire team propelled India forward.
Q. As a young navigation engineer, what were the challenges you encountered during the development of the Navigation system for BrahMos?
In my early years as a navigation engineer at Research Centre Imarat (RCI), the journey of developing a cutting-edge Navigation system for BrahMos was rife with challenges, but it also offered a fertile ground for innovation and the pursuit of excellence. One of the key challenges was adapting our navigation system, originally designed for ballistic missiles, to meet the needs of a cruise missile like BrahMos. Traditional navigation systems demanded a considerable amount of stabilisation time before they could be operational. BrahMos, however, required a quick response – just a couple of minutes. This challenge necessitated an innovative approach and a departure from conventional design norms.
Moreover, while the Russians had a navigation system, it was our responsibility to develop a bespoke system that would not only meet the BrahMos requirements but also validate its performance. This entailed an end-to-end responsibility, including hardware development, achieving quick reaction times and conforming to the stringent environmental conditions of the missile. Developing new algorithms, modifying existing schemes, and crafting software to meet the novel requirements of operational timing and developmental time cycles was a gargantuan task, yet a compelling one.
An integral part of this project was working closely with Russian specialists. We spent months in Russia, in various spells, trying to understand and fill the gaps in thought processes, work culture, and interfaces. Working in simulation facilities, test facilities, and simultaneous software development ensured harmony between Russian systems and ours. This immersive experience was not just a platform for learning and gaining diverse perspectives for both sides, but also a testament to our capabilities which were highly appreciated by our Russian counterparts.
The whole endeavour was a concerted effort involving avionics teams from various technology centres from DRDO and corresponding Russian specialists. Working collectively, overcoming barriers and developing an integrated system, the synergy was simply overwhelming. Long hours of working were the norm, yet the enthusiasm of the team never dwindled.
Looking back, these challenges and our relentless efforts to overcome them instilled in us the confidence to achieve total mission success. We pushed the boundaries to the extremes, leveraging our collective skills and determination to develop the Avionics which meet the complete requirements of BrahMos. The journey was arduous, but the results were deeply rewarding.
Q. What were the further criticalities after the initial success of the mission?
Following the initial success of the BrahMos mission, it was quickly realised that achieving the first milestone was just the beginning. The path forward was lined with an array of challenges, all of which further tested our capacity for innovation and adaptability.
As we began to integrate the missile system across different platforms, several technical obstacles were confronted. The mounting schemes differed depending on whether the missile was integrated on a ship or deployed from the ground or an aircraft, and each scenario demanded a distinct approach. Alignments, both mechanical and electrical, as well as software interface compatibility, presented their own set of issues, as did the need to devise new navigation and guidance schemes. All these facets required novel solutions and robust mechanisms for ensuring the optimum performance of the missile.
Another major challenge was scaling up production capabilities. This included establishing new production facilities, hiring and training new engineers and arranging for Russian experts to be part of the complex process of system integration. These tasks were daunting, but provided us with a unique and enriching experience.
The BrahMos missile system is truly exceptional and compact in its configuration. Given its supersonic speed within the atmosphere, the missile is exposed to extreme environmental conditions, including intense vibrations, temperature conditions, and shocks. Ensuring our avionics withstand and perform under these conditions was a critical requirement and a testament to our engineering prowess.
For the assembly and integration of the system, coupled with the stringent testing of each sub-system pre and post-integration, specialised training was required. Over the years, our team became specialists, expanding our technical capabilities. This culminated in the establishment of dedicated industries to produce these complex systems.
Each new challenge post the initial success of the BrahMos mission propelled us to reach greater heights in technological innovation and adaptation while firmly cementing our standing in the realm of advanced defence capabilities.
Q. What are your views on the BrahMos model?
The establishment of BrahMos Aerospace Private Limited (BAPL) has presented a unique model for India, and the BrahMos model has been highly successful. Here, the Indian government and Russia hold 50.5% and 49.5% stakes, respectively, creating a compelling blend of public accountability and private efficiency. This blend expedites operations, decision-making processes, and timelines, resulting in a more nimble and agile organisation. Many new major systems can be developed through joint ventures forming Private Ltd Companies between DRDO and Industry.
Through the lens of BAPL’s success, one can see the true potential for Indian defence manufacturing and technological entity. It’s a beacon of encouragement, showcasing the heights achieved by a combination of cutting-edge technology, international collaborations, and focused efforts. Today, many Indian industries have become partners, supplying the majority of the systems as part of the production chain.
Q. How has BrahMos shaped itself as a potent weapon system?
The transformation of BrahMos over the past 25 years has been remarkable. From its humble beginnings as a blueprint, it has metamorphosed into one of the world’s most formidable weapon systems. The evolution has been a testament not only to India’s technological prowess but also to the resilience and strength of the Indo-Russian collaboration in military technology.
Throughout its journey, the BrahMos missile system has proven its versatility, adaptability and sheer power. What began as a concept has now found its place across multiple platforms – on land, at sea, and in the air. This wide-ranging integration is indicative of its broad applicability and the confidence entrusted in its capabilities. However, BrahMos isn’t just about a state-of-the-art missile system. It represents a journey of relentless learning and continuous improvement.
Over the years, the system has been progressively upgraded to keep pace with changing threats and technological advancements. A number of new technologies and systems have been developed and incorporated. These enhancements have allowed our armed forces to maintain a cutting-edge capability in an ever-changing strategic landscape.
Reflecting on the past quarter-century, it’s evident that the development and refinement of BrahMos have been a collective endeavour. Hundreds of scientists, both Indian and Russian, have contributed their expertise to this project. Production facilities have been established not only for manufacturing but also for continuous innovation and advancement.
Equally important has been the cultivation of trust and competence in the armed forces. The induction of the system across all three branches of our military speaks volumes about its efficacy and reliability. The continuous flow of orders is a validation of its operational success and the confidence it inspires.
In essence, the evolution of BrahMos over the last 25 years is not just about technological leaps; it’s a tale of international cooperation, continuous learning and unyielding commitment to safeguarding our nation. It’s the embodiment of the best of scientific minds working together to ensure our defence capabilities remain formidable in the face of ever-evolving challenges.
Q. What are recent technological milestones that have been achieved in the development of the BrahMos, and how have these advancements improved its capabilities?
BrahMos has always been at the forefront of innovation, and the past few years have been no exception. Among the most significant technological milestones achieved recently, extending the missile’s range certainly takes centre stage. Both ground and airborne systems have been meticulously upgraded to ensure performance at these extended ranges without any compromise in accuracy.
To ensure the BrahMos missile system continues to live up to its formidable reputation, we have incorporated a host of cutting-edge advancements. The guidance systems, a critical component of any missile system, have been significantly improved. In spite of the increased range, it has led to better accuracy and mission success.
Interfacing with aircraft requires novel schemes and upgraded software which have been developed to suit the platform conditions and environment. To achieve higher accuracies in hitting the targets, new terminal guidance systems have been developed.
In the realm of defence technologies, complacency is never an option. As new needs arise, we must respond with fresh programmes and technologies. This is why we consistently strive to upgrade our weaponry and stay ahead of the curve. It’s akin to a constant race: two steps are taken to catch up, and an additional one to leap ahead.
In the theatre of warfare, victory goes to the side that outperforms the rest technologically. To ensure we remain the ‘best’, we are committed to developing capabilities to counter futuristic threats. In other words, we never truly cap a programme. Building new capabilities and embracing innovation are ongoing processes pivotal to our strategic defence objectives. To summarise, the recent advancements in BrahMos are not just incremental improvements; they are quantum leaps that ensure our missile system remains among the most effective and feared in the world.
Q. After its first export order to Phillippines, how do you see the future of BrahMos Aerospace Private Limited?
The BrahMos missile system has seen a dramatic rise in global interest, culminating in its first export order to the Philippines. This monumental milestone is not just the result of the tireless efforts of the Indian government and the DRDO but also the fruits of a successful collaboration with Russia.
Through effective outreach strategies and engaging discussions during International events and defence expositions, the remarkable capabilities and potential of BrahMos have been propelled into the world stage. The keen interest shown by various nations underlines the quality and effectiveness of our missile system, and I see a great future for exporting BrahMos.
The prospects for exports of BAPL are quite promising, given the continued advancements in technology and increased interest from other nations. This not only bolsters India’s standing in defence exports but also deepens our diplomatic ties on the global stage, enhancing the overall defence exports.