India Tuesday began a series of tests of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, even as work goes on to extend its range. ThePrint has learnt that India is working on a 1,500-km range version of the system that can be launched from land, water or air.
BrahMos, the only supersonic cruise missile in the world that flies at three times the speed of sound (2.8 Mach), currently has a range of 290 km, but efforts are also on to extend this to 400 km.
The Army carried out the first of several ‘live missile tests’ of the 290-km range BrahMos in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The Navy and the Air Force — which has fitted its Sukhoi Su-30 MKI fighters fitted with the BrahMos — are also likely to carry out tests this week.
Sources in the defence and security establishment said the test of the 400-km range of BrahMos conducted in September was successful, and talks are on with the three Services to extend the range of the missiles within a scheduled time period.
A hypersonic version of the missile — which flies at over five times the speed of sound — is also being worked upon, and sources said the target is to test an 800-km range BrahMos next year.
“The team is also working on a 1,500-km range missile,” a source said, adding that initially, this will be a land-based missile.
“But once the system is proven, it will need just some modifications to fire from the air and water,” the source said.
The Indian Air Force had, in January this year, commissioned the 222 ‘Tiger Sharks’ squadron in Thanjavur, home to the first lot of Su-30 MKIs equipped with the BrahMos.
Need for speed
Sources explained that when it comes to the new generation of missiles, speed is a crucial factor.
“The famous example is of the 1998 operation by the US to destroy an Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan and to target Osama bin Laden. Tomahawk missiles were fired from the Arabian Sea and took two hours to travel 1,100 miles, as they were travelling at a speed of 550 miles per hour or 0.7 Mach. The missile hit but Osama had left the place an hour back. A faster missile would have meant it would have hit him while he was there,” a source explained.
A missile’s destructive power is enhanced due to large kinetic energy on impact.
What is BrahMos?
The BrahMos missile is the product of a joint venture between India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation and Russia’s NPO Mashinostroyeniya in 1998. It is a portmanteau of the names of two rivers — India’s Brahmaputra and Russia’s Moskva.
The BrahMos missile has a maximum speed of 2.8 Mach (around 3,450 mph or 2,148 mph) and is difficult to intercept by surface-to-air missiles currently deployed from warships across the world. It also has an immense ability to evade various radars.
The missile’s cruising altitude could be up to 15 km, and the lowest it can fly is 10 metres above the surface. The missile is capable of carrying a conventional warhead (non-nuclear) weighing 200-300 kg.
The BrahMos is a two-stage missile, with a solid propellant booster engine that kicks in in the first stage and brings the missile to supersonic speed before separating. Following this, the liquid ramjet comes into action and takes the missile closer to Mach 3 in the cruise phase. It operates on a ‘fire and forgets’ principle — it doesn’t have to be constantly monitored on its way to the target.