The BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, a precision-strike weapon with a range of around 290 km. Source: Reuters / Vostok-Photo
It was déjà vu in Indo-Russian defence ties when Indian Defence Minister AK Antony said in New Delhi on Tuesday that Russia should induct BrahMos supersonic cruise missile in their fleet so that the success achieved in the joint venture will be fully appreciated.
Antony made this remark while addressing the ‘Partnership Day’ marking the 15th anniversary of signing of Inter Governmental Agreement (IGA) between India and Russia forthe formation of BrahMos joint venture. He told the audience that soon the Indian Air Force will have BrahMos both, on land and air platform, making it a real force multiplier for all the wings of the Indian armed forces.
The reason why Antony’s remark on BrahMos this week triggered a feeling of déjà vu is because he had made a similar remark almost seven months ago during his official talks with the visiting Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin in July 2012. Antony had asked Rogozin then to start inducting the 290 km range BrahMos missiles in the Russian naval fleet to further strengthen the joint venture between the two countries. Rogozin had described BrahMos thus: “BrahMos is not only a successful joint venture but also a model for cooperation which has immense political value for our two countries.”
The integration of the BrahMos missile on 40 of the Indian air force (IAF) Su-30MKI fleet of combat aircraft is currently going on as per the schedule. The land- and ship-launched versions of the supersonic, anti-ship cruise missile have already been tested successfully.
Last year the Indian government had announced plans to have a reduced-weight air-launched version of the BrahMos on the Air Force's Russian-designed Sukhoi SU-30 MK-1 fighter aircraft. The weight of the missile (2.5 metric tonnes) had posed a bit of problem. The Indian defence technical experts are engaged in an exercise of strengthening the structure of the aircraft and bringing the missile weight down.
Besides, the Indian defence personnel are also trying to strengthen the rocket launcher, for which tests have already been carried out. The first test is expected by 2013 end and the missile’s induction into the IAF will be in 2015.
The air-launched version of the BrahMos missile under development was on display at the recently concluded Aero India show at Bangalore where a model of the hypersonic BrahMos 2 was also shown. Russia and India have already agreed to broaden their cooperation on BrahMos by developing an air-launched hypersonic BrahMos 2 missile capable of flying at speeds of Mach 5 to Mach 7.
On the other hand, the missile is yet to be inducted into the Russian armed forces. BrahMos has been pushing for the induction of the missile on under-construction Russian warships which are similar to Indian Navy's Talwar Class frigates.
Why Russia has not Inducted BrahMos Yet?
There are at least four explanations for this in the whisper corridors but nothing official has come yet from the Russians. One such explanation is that except for the P-700, the rest of the Russian fleet has 300Km missiles, same range as the BrahMos. The argument is that anything bigger would require heavier ships and subs because the P-700 is a 7 ton missile and only the Kirov class carries it.
The other explanation is that the Russians currently don't have a requirement for BrahMos because they are not inducting new ships like India is. Russia’s latest inductions will happen only later this year for the new Gorshkov class frigates. The new ships will either be equipped with BrahMos or Klub missiles, depending on the budget. Klubs are cheaper but BrahMos is more capable.
Third, many Russian experts view BrahMos as a downgraded Yakhont and so why should Russia choose it instead of Yakhont? It is pointed out that Yakhont is the export name for the P-800 Oniks. BrahMos is just the short range version of Yakhont. The Indians wanted a longrange missile but the Russians could not give it because of the MTCR (Missile TechnologyControl Regime) stipulations and so they gave the shorter version (BrahMos) to the Indians.
Fourth, Russia cannot incorporate whatever they have learnt from the BrahMos because everything for the missile is out sourced from Russia. The missile’s seeker, guidance,navigation and fire control systems are all India's responsibility for manufacturing along with the firing mechanism. Why should Russia develop the same things again and incorporate these into the Oniks?
However, BrahMos has a greater tactical value over Yakhont. While Yakhont is an anti-shipcruise missile only and can be fired from ships, BrahMos can be used against any land or seabased target and can be fired from any platform be it land, sea, air or underwater.
BrahMos a Game Changer for India
Whatever Russia’s reasons are for not integrating the BrahMos missiles in its armed forces yet, for India BrahMos is a potent weapon and a veritable game changer. In view of this, Antony, in his February 19, 2013 speech announced that the Indian government has decided to expand the infrastructure at multiple centres to cater to larger production requirement of BrahMos missiles and systems. He said the Indian armed forces consider BrahMos to be an important weapon due to its speed, precision and power.
Antony also said that the cooperation between the scientists and scientific expertise of India’s DRDO and Russia’s NPOM and many other organizations from India and Russia has proved that there is a way to do things faster and take the lead in the world. He pointed out that the partnership has blossomed and yielded results, which have not been achieved by any other country.
The minister said that the role of DRDO, NPOM and the quality assurance agencies ingrooming this industry to achieve high technology levels and a superior quality product has indeed resulted in customer's delight, that is, the Indian defence forces. He remarked that this process has resulted in a new trend of thinking, in terms of a collaboration and joint venture, as India too could share its technology and products with others.
Indian Air Force Chief NAK Browne in his address said that the modified Su-30 Mk-1 aircraft will soon be equipped with BrahMos missile. It should be pointed out in this context that the Indian Army and the Navy have already got BrahMos, while the IAF will get it by 2014. The integration of the new BrahMos missile on to Sukhoi’s Su-30MKI long-rangefighter is due to reach a key milestone this year with integration of the weapon on test aircraft, ahead of planned first deliveries to the IAF in 2014.
The writer is a New Delhi-based journalist-author and a strategic affairs analyst.
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