The Buzz

India's Supersonic BrahMos Cruise Missile Should Terrify Pakistan (And China)

India is preparing to test a new, long-range version of its supersonic BrahMos cruise missile this year, according to local media reports.

On January 20, the Hindustan Times reported India is “laying the groundwork” to test a new 800km version of its BrahMos cruise missile. The test is expected to take place some time in 2018. “It will be a significant leap forward for the BrahMos project. Air force fighters will be able to attack targets from increased standoff ranges,” the report quoted a second source familiar with the program as saying.

The test was largely expected after the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), India’s premier defense technology agency, announced that it was developing an 800km variant of the missile in February 2017. The following month, in March 2017, India test fired a 400km version of the BrahMos missile. As the Hindustan Times report points out, the extended range BrahMos missiles were made possible by India’s entry into the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) in June 2016. India jointly developed the missile with Russia, and the MTRC restricts its members from sharing a missile with a range greater than 300km with a nonmember of the treaty.

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The BrahMos is a two-stage supersonic cruise missile that was jointly developed by India’s Defense Research Development Organization and Russia’s NPO Mashinostroyenia. BrahMos Aerospace, the joint organization created to develop the missile, explains that it is a "two-stage missile with a solid propellant booster engine as its first stage which brings it to supersonic speed and then gets separated. The liquid ramjet or the second stage then takes the missile closer to 3 Mach speed in cruise phase. Stealth technology and guidance system[s] with advanced embedded software provides the missile with special features." One of those special features is its ability to fly extremely close to the ground to avoid missile defense systems. According to BrahMos Aerospace, during terminal phase the missile can fly as low as ten meters to the ground.

Notably, despite the missile’s immense speed, it actually weighs twice as much as America’s Tomahawk missiles. This speed-weight ratio makes the BrahMos incredibly lethal. As Sebastien Roblin has noted, “The combination of twice the weight and four times greater speed as a Tomahawk result in vastly more kinetic energy when striking the target. Despite having a smaller warhead, the effects on impact are devastating.”

Russia and India signed an agreement to begin developing the missile in 1998. It is reportedly based on the Russian-made P-800 Oniks/Yakhont supersonic antiship cruise missile. The first BrahMos missile was first tested in 2001. Since then, India has been building the missile as a triad threat—that is, one that can be launched from the ground, air and sea (as well as from submarines). It was initially developed to be an antiship missile similar to the P-800 Oniks. According to India’s Economic Times, the antiship version “is capable of hitting sea based targets beyond radar horizons.”

Later, India sought a ground-based version. The first of these was tested on mobile launchers for the Indian Army in 2004, and it was likely declared operational about five years later. The Economic Times has noted of the ground-based version: “The mobile land-based configuration of BrahMos has achieved several advancements over the years in the form of Block I, Block II and Block III variants with each having its own distinct potentiality to hit and destroy enemy target.”