By Air Marshal Anil Chopra (r)
The Indian Air Force (IAF) Chief, Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari, said that he wants a smaller version of BrahMos to arm the LCA Tejas, Mirage-2000, and MiG-29 fighters. The supersonic cruise missile paired with Su-30MKI has multiplied the ‘deterrence value’ for the IAF, he added.
The Ukraine war has seen very significant use of cruise missiles and glide bombs by Russia as the West-supplied air defence systems had created an air denial environment over the tactical area. Russian cruiser Moskva was also sunk by subsonic cruise missiles. Earlier, the Americans had made extensive use of cruise missiles during the Gulf Wars.
The Chinese air doctrine is to use cruise missiles and conventional ballistic missiles first to weaken enemy offensive and defensive capability before launching its own offensive. Albeit expensive compared to free-fall bombs, cruise missiles have now become the weapon to have in large numbers in the inventory.
BrahMos Missile Program
India’s CDS and the three Service Chiefs recently attended a ceremony to mark 25 years of the formation of BrahMos Aerospace, a joint venture between India’s DRDO and Russia’s NPO Mashinostroyenia. The company was established on February 12, 1998, in which India holds a 50.5% share and Russia 49.5%.
The BrahMos is a medium-range, ramjet-powered, supersonic cruise missile that can be launched from land, ships, submarine, or aircraft. The missile is highly manoeuvrable and flies at Mach 2.8, and is reportedly the fastest supersonic cruise missile in the world. The land, sea and air-launched variants are all under induction in the armed forces in significant numbers. The air-variant can currently be carried only by Su-30 MKI because of the missile’s large size. BrahMos missiles have an embedded chip to be able to use the American, Russian, or Indian Satellite navigation system Navic.
Initially, India was not part of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) multilateral export control regime. It limited the missile payload to 500 kilograms, and a range of 300 kilometres. In 2016, once India became a member of the MTCR, BrahMos began developing a new generation of missiles with longer ranges and increased accuracy. Missiles up to 500 km range have already been developed. The plans are to eventually upgrade all missiles to a range of 1,500 km.
The submarine-launched variant of BrahMos can be launched from a depth of 40 to 50 metres. The air-launched BrahMos-A had to evolve for size, weight, and fitment on aircraft. Only one of the 2.55-ton, 500 km-range BrahMos-A missiles, can be carried by the Sukhoi Su-30MKI, and a significant number of aircraft have been modified to carry it. Each service has a significant missile inventory, and numbers are going up.
BrahMos-NG (Next Generation) will be a mini-version weighing around 1.5 tons, and have a range of 290 km and Mach 3.5 speed. The length of 6 m and a diameter of 50 centimetres, will allow its fitment on more IAF fighters, including the LCA. The Su-30MKI would carry three of these missiles, while other combat aircraft would carry one each. Additionally, the BrahMos-NG will have an AESA radar rather than the mechanically scanned one on the BrahMos. Reduced radar cross section (RCS) will make it difficult to detect and intercept. There will be land and sea variants also.
Submarine-launched variant will be capable of being fired from the new P75I class of submarines. It is expected to be inducted in 2024. Next-Generation Maritime Mobile Coastal Batteries (Long range) have been ordered for the Navy. Deliveries will take place around 2027. BrahMos Aerospace is planning to manufacture BrahMos-NG in Uttar Pradesh. Large numbers have initially been ordered by the IAF.
BrahMos uses an Indian seeker and an India-developed propulsion system, airframe and power supply. Currently, 65% of the missile is manufactured in India, and there are plans to increase this to 85% by replacing the components with Indian-made ones. Meanwhile, BrahMos missiles have been ordered by the Philippines. Russia, too, is interested in purchasing air-launched and sea-based variants. Several Southeast Asian and Latin American countries have expressed interest. These countries are Brazil, Brunei, Chile, Indonesia, Egypt, Malaysia, Oman, South Africa, Venezuela, and Vietnam.
A hypersonic version of the Missile, BrahMos-II, is also under development with a speed of Mach 7–8 to boost aerial fast strike capability. It will have a range of 600 km. It is expected to be ready for testing by 2024 and induction around 2028.
Operational Employment Of BrahMos
BrahMos has the capability of attacking surface targets by flying as low as 5 m and the maximum altitude it can fly is 15,000 m. The ship-launched and land-based missiles can carry a 200 kg warhead, whereas the aircraft-launched variant can carry a 300 kg warhead.
Operationally, the high speed of the BrahMos gives it better target-penetration characteristics compared to the lighter subsonic cruise missiles, such as Tomahawk. Being twice as heavy and almost four times as fast as Tomahawk, the BrahMos has more than 32 times the on-cruise kinetic energy of a Tomahawk missile, although it carries a lesser payload and has lesser range. Its Mach 2.8 speed means it is more difficult to intercept. It will be used to target both land and anti-shipping targets. It can be launched either in a vertical or inclined position and is capable of covering targets over a 360-degree horizon. The BrahMos missile also utilises a ‘fire-and-forget’ system, requiring no additional input from the operator once the missile has been launched.
Indian Army has raised BrahMos regiments. Each regiment would have between four and six batteries of three to four mobile autonomous launchers (72 missiles per regiment) and a mobile command post. Similarly, IAF and Indian Navy have operationally deployed BrahMos.
Other Indian Cruise Missiles
Nirbhay is a long-range, all-weather, subsonic cruise missile designed and developed in India by the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) under DRDO.
The missile can be launched from multiple platforms and is capable of carrying conventional and nuclear warheads. Manufactured by Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL), it carries a 2-300 kg warhead and has a range of 1,500 km. It will eventually supplement the role played by BrahMos missile for the Indian Armed Forces by delivering warheads farther. A separate air-launched variant and submarine-launched variant are under development. By April 2023, the development trials of land-based Nirbhay were completed. User trials are expected soon.
Foreign Cruise Missiles With Indian Armed Forces
- The SCALP-EG is the French version of the low-observable, long-range, air-launched cruise missile Storm Shadow developed by MBDA. The missile weighs about 1,300 kg, has a conventional warhead of 450 kg, and propels at Mach 0.8. The Rafale fighter jet can carry two SCALP missiles which have a range of 560 km.
- The Crystal Maze (Popeye) is a precision attack air-to-surface missile developed by Israel for large targets. The Indian variant warhead is around 80 kg and has around 100 km range. Some Popeye variants carry 350 kg warheads and have a range of around 1,500 km.
- Spice is an Israeli-developed EO/GPS guidance kit used for converting air-droppable unguided bombs into precision-guided glide bombs. Spice-2000 is the add-on kit for 900 kg bombs. These bombs were used by IAF’s Mirage-2000 at Balakot in Pakistan.
- The Kh-59MK is a Russian TV-guided anti-shipping cruise missile with a two-stage solid-fuel propulsion system and a 280 km range. It can be carried on Su-30MKI.
- India acquired Harpoon Block II missiles to arm its maritime strike Jaguar fighters for an anti-shipping role.
Other Indian Cruise Missiles Under Development
The Rudram is a series of air-to-surface ground attack and anti-radiation missiles, with ranges between 100 and 250 km, under development by the DRDO. The IAF is looking for the anti-radiation missile variant, the Rudram-1, which was successfully test-fired on 9 October 2020. Induction should begin soon. Rudram-2 with a range of 300 km and air-to-ground version Rudram-3 with a 550 km range are under development.
Cruise Missiles With China
- The CJ-10 (earlier DH-10) is a second-generation Chinese land-attack cruise missile. It is derived from the Russian Kh-55 missile. CJ-10 flies subsonic and has a range of around 1,500 km, and carries a 500 kg payload. It uses both inertial and satellite navigation systems. It also has terrain contour matching and a likely digital scene-mapping area correlator for terminal guidance. It can carry either conventional or nuclear payloads.
The CJ-10 has a circular error probable (CEP) of 10 m.
- The YJ-100 is a subsonic anti-ship missile version of the CJ-10 with a range of 800 km. The missile can be air-launched by the H-6 bomber and fired from a vertical launch system of the Type 055 destroyer. The air-launched version has an estimated range of 2,000 km. Xian H-6 bomber may carry up to six missiles.
- DF-100 is a ground-launched missile with a 2,000 km range, and DF-21D is an anti-ship ballistic missile. The latter is designed to hit naval assets like aircraft carriers. As of 2022, the US DoD estimates China has more than 300 DF-100. The newer variants are reportedly stealthier and more accurate. There is also a supersonic version.
Since 2014, China has carried out several tests of its hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV), such as the DF-ZF and Starry Sky-2 Waverider hypersonic cruise missile. The DF-27, an HGV-equipped IRBM, was successfully tested on February 25, 2023, flying for 12 minutes and travelling 2,100 km. The land attack and anti-ship variants have already been deployed.
Pakistan Cruise Missiles
- Pakistan has a large inventory of Cruise missiles. Babur (Hatf-VII) is a Pakistani medium-range turbojet-powered subsonic cruise missile that can be launched from land or underwater seaborne platforms. There are many variants. Babur-1 has a range of 700 km. The Babur-1B can hit targets at 900 km. The Babur-2 saw improvements in targeting technology and a range of 750 km. Babur-3 is a submarine-launched variant with a range of 450 km.
- Pakistan also has the air-launched Ra’ad and its enhanced version Ra’ad II and ship-launched Harbah missile. Both, Ra’ad and Babur can carry nuclear warheads between 10 and 25 kilotons and deliver them to targets at a range of up to 300 km and 450 km respectively.
- The Zarb (Chinese C-602) is the export variant of the YJ-62 in use by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). It is a medium-range anti-ship and land-attack missile with a maximum range of 280 km and carries a 300 kg high-explosive semi-armour-piercing warhead.
- C-802 is the Chinese export variant of the YJ-83 subsonic anti-ship cruise missile. Pakistan also has a CM-302 variant of the Chinese YJ-12 supersonic anti-ship cruise missile.
- Pakistan has the American Harpoon Block-2 anti-shipping missiles, among a few others.
- The Hatf IX Nasr is a ballistic missile which carries a sub-kiloton tactical nuclear weapon to a range of 60 km.
Operational Employment India & Way Ahead
Cruise missiles are primarily meant to attack relatively high-value targets such as command bunkers, bridges, dams, and ships. Modern guidance systems permit fairly accurate attacks. The Tomahawk cruise missiles were very effectively used by the US Navy during the Gulf Wars. Tomahawk costs around USD 1.99 million. All the air-launched cruise missiles (ALCM) and naval variants give greater flexibility and range. Many cruise missiles can carry either conventional or nuclear warhead.
The Russian Kalibr missile saw its combat debut on 7 October 2015 in Syria as a part of the Russian military campaign. The missile has been used many more times in combat since then. In the opening assault in Ukraine, on 24 February 2022, at least 30 cruise missiles were fired, targeting command and control points, airbases, and air defence batteries.
Cruise missiles are much more difficult to detect and intercept than other aerial assets. They have reduced RCS, as well as infrared and visual signature, as such more suitable to attack static air defence systems. Currently, cruise missiles are among the most expensive of single-use weapons, costing up to several million dollars apiece. The BrahMos costs USD 3.5 Million, and the BrahMos-ER costs USD 4.85 Million. Therefore, the users face difficult choices in target allocation to avoid expending the missiles on targets of low value. The target must either have a heavy military or political value.
China’s doctrine proposes to use surface or air-launched cruise missiles before the main offensive to weaken India’s offensive and defensive capabilities. This would require adequate air defence systems covering important Indian installations, including airfields. The missiles would be travelling at the same speeds as aircraft but would have smaller RCS, and therefore detection may be delayed.
Conversely, India must also use cruise missiles, especially to target adversary’s much fewer airfields. Also, the dividend of targeting important bridges and logistic nodes in the Himalayas could be much higher. The missiles must be programmed to hit in pull-up and steep dive mode for maximum effect. In the case of Pakistan, India has the advantage of the number of missiles that can be applied to much fewer targets.
Notwithstanding, the exercise of building inventories must continue to cater for two-front action. With larger production, the cost of Indian cruise missiles should come down. Cruise missiles continue to be an important part of military inventories. Sometimes these will have to be used in conjunction with drone swarm attacks and/or manned, unmanned teaming (MUM-T) strikes to saturate adversary defences.
Air Mshl. Anil Chopra (r), is the Director General, Centre for Airpower Studies