By Aritra Banerjee
The theatre of modern aerial warfare has witnessed a considerable evolution in terms of technology, agility, and strategy. Central to this evolution is the development of the BrahMos missile: a munition renowned for its precision and speed. Developed by a Indo-Russian joint venture, its capabilities as the world’s fastest supersonic missile establish its prowess as a force multiplier. Its significance is further amplified when integrated with one of the world’s leading fighter aircraft: the Su-30.
An offshoot of the legendary Su-27, Su-30 is capable of multi-role combat operations. The lineage of the aircraft stretches back to 1986, with numerous iterations spanning the Su-30K to the technologically advanced Su-30SM2. Each one of the Flanker series (as it is known in the West) has unique capabilities tailored to specific operational needs. Several nations apart from Russia, including India, Malaysia, and China, have recognised the Su-30’s potential. Combining the BrahMos missile’s agility with the Su-30’s versatility creates a formidable alliance.
The Su-30’s MKI variant used by the Indian Air Force (IAF), already has integrated the BrahMos, offering a combination of long-range engagement and the ability to deliver precision strikes. This integration is not merely about attaching a missile to a fighter; it is a complex combination of advanced avionics, radar systems, and state-of-the-art weapon systems coming together to form an aerial combat unit.
For nations already operating the Su-30, integrating the BrahMos offers a streamlined process, given the aircraft’s inherent adaptability. This constructive collaboration can empower them with not just an aerial advantage, but also a strategic one.
The India Experience Factor
With the global interest in the BrahMos missile’s Air Variant (BrahMos A) shooting, nations operating the Su-30 fighter jet are now eyeing the procurement of this advanced missile system. Additionally, they are also looking to India for the country’s unmatched expertise in integrating and operating the weapon. Group Captain Arpit Kala, an ace fighter pilot and Commanding Officer of a Su-30MKI fighter aircraft squadron, recently shared insights underscoring how the integration of indigenous weapons, particularly the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, has significantly amplified the capabilities of the Su-30MKI combat aircraft operated by India.
With the Indian Su-30MKIs now armed with one of the world’s foremost missile systems, capable of striking targets from considerable distances, the global defence landscape could see a shift as more countries seek to emulate India’s integrated aerial firepower. Given that about fifteen countries operate the Sukhoi-30, the nation’s experience presents a lucrative opportunity for these nations to upgrade their own fleets with the BrahMos A.
India’s Proven Expertise: The BrahMos-Su-30MKI Integration
What stands out in India’s integration of the BrahMos Air Launch Cruise Missile (ALCM) with its Su-30 MKI fleet is the cost-effectiveness with which this was achieved. Indian companies played a crucial role in getting the job done at a fraction of the cost quoted by Russia.
The saga traces back to 2013 when RK Tyagi, the then chairperson of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), was approached with the audacious idea of integrating the BrahMos missile onto the Russian fighter. While initially met with skepticism due to financial constraints, the project eventually took off, with HAL absorbing design and development costs. Four years later, a Su-30 MKI, equipped with the BrahMos missile, flawlessly struck a target 260 km away in the Bay of Bengal.
From conducting safe store separation analysis and ensuring structural modifications did not alter vibration characteristics to dealing with missile system software modifications, it took collaboration between more than one hundred Indian companies, 20,000 specialists, engineers, and a consortium led by HAL to finish the task.
With the ability to strike heavily defended targets deep into enemy territory, the BrahMos-equipped Su-30 MKI now has a vast strike range, providing India with a substantial advantage in targeting strategic enemy locations and defence infrastructure.
After this successful undertaking, India has immense potential to become a hub of training for nations keen on a similar upgrade. Through structured training programs, sharing of expertise, and firsthand workshops, India can provide the required knowledge and skills to personnel from other nations, ensuring their smooth transition into operating the integrated systems effectively.
One can visualise the heights India may be poised for with an enhanced Su-30 (Super Su-30) on the horizon and BrahMos Aerospace venturing into developing hypersonic versions.
Strategic Implications & Prospects of Armenia’s Interest
Armenia has shown an interest in both the Su-30s and the BrahMos missile platforms. It is also keen on getting India’s support for training fighter pilots and supplying and integrating weapons for its SU-30SM fighters. This proposition to further integrate advanced Indian technologies presents New Delhi as a pivotal defence partner for Yerevan. The IAF’s experience with the Russian-origin fighter jet could prove invaluable for Armenia in terms of procurement and, training and operational adaptations. The superior weaponry and integration in the Indian Su-30MKIs present a desirable offering.
The BrahMos Attraction: At ARMY 2023, the BrahMos pavilion emerged as a focal point, accentuating the missile’s global appeal. The attention it drew from Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Armenia’s Deputy Defence Minister, Karen Brutyan, was unmissable. The BrahMos in Armenia’s arsenal could mean enhanced power of deterrence in the region. For India, this potential acquisition would further solidify its position as a burgeoning military hardware exporter.
Collaboration Potential & Geopolitical Ramifications: Although the prospect of Armenia potentially upgrading its existing fleet with Indian technology and training beckons a new era of cooperation, the geopolitical balancing act involved could be tricky. Azerbaijan, Armenia’s regional adversary, could potentially counter with the JF-17 Thunder- a development with the potential to reshape the regional power dynamics. Nevertheless, strengthening Indo-Armenian ties, especially in the defence sector, could counterweight the emerging trilateral military collaboration between Pakistan, Turkey, and Azerbaijan.
The mutual interest demonstrated at ARMY 2023 in Moscow hints at a transformative defence partnership between India and Armenia that could have long-lasting regional ramifications. The evolving defence relationship between the two countries in the context of the Su-30MKIs and the BrahMos missile, is also likely to present a valuable case study for other nations contemplating similar military collaborations. As Armenia integrates advanced Indian technologies into its defence matrix, the challenges faced, lessons learned, and successes achieved could provide a crucial precedent.
Preparing For a Crucial Precedent: For nations that share strategic interests with India, observing Armenia’s experience would give them insights into the operational benefits, cost-effectiveness, and overall enhancement of defence capabilities through such collaboration. Additionally, it underscores India’s growing prowess and reliability as a defence partner capable of offering state-of-the-art technologies tailored to diverse operational needs. This Indo-Armenian partnership, if fruitful, has the potential to position India more prominently on the global defence landscape, encouraging more countries to seek collaborations and procurements in the future.
Malaysia’s Overtures: A Strategic Pivot Towards BrahMos
Another high-profile delegation visit spotted at the BrahMos pavilion at ARMY 2023 exhibition was from the Royal Malaysian Navy. Their focused visit was no casual walkthrough but indicated a deep-rooted interest in the missile system, signaling Malaysia’s strategic intent.
This interest is not surprising, given Kuala Lumpur’s past overtures. Malaysia has long been inclined towards the BrahMos, especially its Next Generation (NG) version. Indian Aerospace & Defence had reported from DefExpo 2022 that the Southeast Asian nation’s interest in BrahMos NG stemmed from its compatibility with the Russian Sukhoi-30. The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) currently operates the Sukhoi Su-30MKM, an advanced derivative of the Su-30 series.
Although tailored to meet specific Malaysian requirements, the twin-seater, twin-engine supermaneuverable fighter jet’s origin can be traced back to the Su-30MKI of the IAF. Given the shared lineage, the Su-30MKM emerges as an ideal candidate for BrahMos integration. The missile’s compatibility with the Su-30MKI suggests a smoother transition and integration process for the Malaysian variant, offering a synergistic range, speed, and firepower combination.
Malaysia’s pursuit of the BrahMos is not an isolated event in the grand scheme of things. Southeast Asian nations, as indicated by the interest of countries like Vietnam and Indonesia, see the missile as a strategic asset. The BrahMos offers these nations a chance to level the playing field in a rapidly evolving geopolitical landscape. The missile’s range, speed, and precision present a formidable deterrent and its compatibility with platforms like the Su-30 only broadens the appeal.
Malaysia’s visit to the BrahMos pavilion at ARMY 2023 and their longstanding interest in the missile system further emphasise the growing strategic importance of the BrahMos in the region.
A Global Trend? Reading Between The Lines Of Defence Diplomacy
For the nations operating the Su-30, the integration of BrahMos could be seen as a natural progression, an upgrade that promises superior deterrence against adversaries. The missile’s unique combination of speed, precision, and range make it a coveted asset, and its integration with the formidable Su-30 platform could impact the balance of power in a regional conflict.
For instance, a country that possesses BrahMos-equipped Su-30s would gain significant leverage over its neighbours due to the enhanced range and destructive power. The widespread adoption of the system could also serve as a counterbalance against the aggressive posturing of larger powers. It would be a force multiplier for smaller nations, allowing them to deter bigger, more powerful adversaries. As seen in the Philippines’ case, acquiring BrahMos is a clear signal against China’s assertive actions in the South China Sea. Such moves assert sovereignty and emphasise the changing dynamics in regional security architectures.
From India’s perspective, these selective arms export further cements its position as a responsible global actor. While India’s arms industry might not yet be at the scale of countries like the USA, Russia, or China, its principles of non-interference and promotion of global stability make it a trusted partner for nations wary of the strings attached to arms deals with greater powers.
However, not all might view the potential adoption of BrahMos positively. Countries that perceive themselves as adversaries of the acquiring nations might see it as an escalation, prompting an arms race. It is a delicate balance that India needs to strike, ensuring that while it aids its partners in achieving their strategic objectives, it does not inadvertently stoke tensions.
Another crucial aspect is the trust-building nature of such deals. When a country like India engages in defence deals, it is not just supplying hardware. It is building relationships, fostering trust, and, often, setting the stage for deeper bilateral ties in other areas – be it trade, cultural exchange, or diplomacy.
While the collaboration between Su-30 flying nations and the BrahMos missile system may be in its infancy, its broader implications could reshape the global defence landscape. It signifies the evolving capabilities of countries like India in the arms industry and underscores the importance of strategic partnerships in maintaining global stability. As these trends unfold, it will be fascinating to observe the shifts in the geopolitical chessboard, with nations making calculated moves in their pursuit of security, sovereignty, and strategic advantage.
From Tactical Advancements to Strategic Milestones
As exemplified by the BrahMos and Su-30 integration, the collaborative ventures present a multifold canvas of opportunities, challenges, and aspirations. This journey of evolving from a major arms importer to an emerging significant exporter marks a pivotal shift for India. It elevates the nation’s standing in the international defence ecosystem and mirrors India’s aspirations to be self-reliant and play a constructive role in ensuring regional stability.
From an economic perspective, such collaborations can potentially boost the country’s defence sector. The financial inflow can be further channeled into research, development, and modernisation of indigenous weapons systems. Moreover, these partnerships offer a platform to share expertise, best practices, and innovative solutions, enriching both the exporter and the recipient.
Acquiring state-of-the-art missile systems like BrahMos for recipient countries significantly elevates their defence capabilities. It offers them an unparalleled advantage in terms of precision, range, and deterrence. These enhancements cannot be underestimated in an age where air power dynamics play a crucial role in determining geopolitical strategies. Beyond the hardware, they gain a dependable partner in India that understands the intricate dance of diplomacy, defence, and development.
As more nations operating the Su-30 or similar platforms recognise the benefits of integrating advanced systems like BrahMos, there is a potential for a reshaped global air power equilibrium. Smaller nations, traditionally sidelined in the major power games, could find themselves wielding significant influence, safeguarding their national interests.
In the tapestry of global geopolitics, the threads of defence collaborations weave a pattern that is both intricate and robust. As India and its partners continue to knot these ties, the future holds promise for a landscape where strategic partnerships bolster security, trust, and mutual growth.