BrahMos: India's Supersonic Mega Missile That China Should Fear

INS Rajput firing a BrahMos missile. Wikimedia Commons/Indian Navy

From Russia with missiles.

This was purposefully done in order to conform to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a partnership of thirty-five countries which restricts the export of cruises missiles with ranges over three hundred kilometers. Russia is a member of the partnership—and just this June 28, India acceded into membership. And here we get into some interesting geopolitical strategy.

China is not a member of the regime, but would dearly appreciate the chance to deal in the market. India, on the other hand, would like to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group which regulates which nuclear technologies are permitted for trade. But China blocked its accession in June this year.

By adhering to the MTCR, India gained access to it—and now hopes to use that access as leverage versus China. Notionally, they could arrange a quid pro quo trading Indian NSG membership for Chinese admission to the MTCR. Whether it will work out that way remains to be seen.

Multiple Targets for Multiple Launchers

The BrahMos isn’t just an antishipping weapon—it also can hit ground-based targets, and is ideal for precision attacks against fixed installations such as radars, command centers, airbases and enemy missile batteries. It can also potentially carry a 660-pound nuclear warhead, though that doesn’t appear to be its primary intended use.

There are quite a few variants of the BrahMos missile designed to be used by the different platforms of the Indian military against either land or naval targets.

The Indian Navy’s BrahMos missiles mostly use eight-cell Vertical Launch System launchers. Six of its frigates and two destroyers have a single BrahMos launcher, while three of its destroyers have twin launchers. More BrahMos equipped ships are under construction.

The Navy has also successfully tested in 2013 a submarine-launched version which is expected to enter service in future vessels. Submarine-launched BrahMoses could potentially be launched fairly close to the target without being detected.

India has also developed the BrahMos-A, designed to be launched from its Su-30MKI strike fighters. Finding a ways to mount such a heavy missile on a fighter plane has taken years of work—in the end, the Su-30s had to be specially modified for the task. The first test flight was carried out in June this year. India has already requisitioned two hundred BrahMos-As, and plans to convert forty Su-30MKIs to carry them. This offers yet another flexible means to deliver the missiles close enough to their intended targets.

Finally, there are ground-launched Mobile Autonomous Launcher systems mounted on twelve-wheeler trucks. These are organized in regiments of five launchers with over 100 missiles. India is deploying a fourth missile regiment to Arunachal Pradesh, reportedly at cost of over 4,300 crore (over $640 million dollars.)

These are what have spooked the Chinese military, particularly since the new Block III missiles are designed to steep dive at seventy-degree angles to hit targets on the rear slopes of mountains. This has obvious application against the heavily militarized Himalayan border with China.

that India is pressing ahead with the development of even deadlier BrahMos variants. To begin with, some reports imply India tested in 2012 a version with a new satellite guidance system and a range of five hundred kilometers. Some argue that even the regular BrahMos may be capable of going further than its claimed 290-kilometer range.

India will also soon introduce the next-generation BrahMos-NG, which is smaller (only three thousand pounds,) faster (Mach 3.5,) and stealthier (smaller Radar-Cross Section.) It should be deployable from land, sea and air systems, including multiple missiles carried on fourth-generation fighters.

Additionally, India will soon be testing a scramjet-powered hypersonic BrahMos II missile capable of zipping along at Mach 7. Needless to say, these would be even harder to detect and shoot down and afford defending ships just seconds to react. The U.S. military has only just begun development a hypersonic missile of its own.

Russia, for its part, has appreciated the BrahMos’s commercial success, but seems to have only limited intention of fielding it: it may potentially deploy the system to Gorshkov-class frigates. It has more capable Zircon missiles (believed to be the model for the BrahMos II) in development and longer-range Oniks missiles already in service.

Showdown Over the Himalayas—and the South China Sea?

The BrahMos is a new game piece in India’s tense relationship with China. Chinese troops invaded India’s Himalayan border in a 1962 war that is still bitterly remembered in India. In the last decade, the Chinese border garrisons began to rapidly increase in size, leading to similar escalation on the Indian side. China’s close relationship with India’s historical enemy, Pakistan, and its development of military base in Gwadhar, Pakistan—seen as an attempt to encircle India—are another source of tension.