BrahMos: Everything You Need to Know About India's Mach 2.8 Missile

July 25, 2017 Topic: Security Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: IndiaChinaBrahmosMilitaryTechnologyWorld

BrahMos: Everything You Need to Know About India's Mach 2.8 Missile

China hates this thing. 

If the attack is launched within 120 kilometers of the target, it can skim at very low altitude the entire way to the target. While missiles can be detected earlier if benefiting from AWACs aircraft, a ship would likely detect a sea-skimming missile at range of only thirty kilometers, affording the vessel only a thirty second time window to respond. One intriguing analysis argues that a U.S. Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, with its layered air defenses, could not handle more twelve BrahMos missiles at once and that an entire carrier battle group would be saturated by more than sixty-four.

While many of us remain mesmerized by the unfolding shambles in the Middle East, the world’s two most populous countries have gotten into a  tiff over missiles. And I’m  not referring to the  ballistic kind  for once.

“India deploying supersonic missiles on the border has exceeded its own needs for self-defense and poses a serious threat to China’s Tibet and Yunnan provinces,”  complained the People’s Liberation Army Daily. “The deployment of BrahMos missile is bound to increase the competition and antagonism in the China–India relations and will have a negative impact on the stability of the region.”

“Our threat perceptions and security concerns are our own, and how we address these by deploying assets on our territory should be no one else's concern,” an Indian military source  sniffed in response.

We’ll first look at the BrahMos’s capabilities and why they are considered a big deal, then plunge into why their deployment and export by is perceived as such a threat by China.

Indeed, the BrahMos cruise missile is stealthy, fast and extremely difficult to shoot down. It also has become a point of contention in a complicated web of overlapping alliances between India, China, Russia and potentially Vietnam.

Supersonic Carrier Killers: 

BrahMos began in the 1990s as a joint project between Russia and India to develop an Indian version of the P-800 Oniks cruise missile. The missile’s name is a portmanteau of the rivers Brahmaputra and Moskva in India and Russia, respectively.

Cruise missiles are designed to be fired at long ranges from their targets so as not to expose the launching platform to enemy retaliation. The quintessential cruise missile is the Tomahawk, developed in the United States. Fired by ships and aircraft, the 2,900-pound missile can cruise up to one thousand miles (depending on the model) at a speed of five hundred miles per hour—roughly the speed of a typical airliner—before slamming into its target.

During the Cold War, Russia developed a  different style of cruise missile designed to take out American aircraft carriers. These flew over the speed of sound to better evade the carrier’s defenses—which include air-to-air missiles fired by fighters, surface-to-air missiles and Gatling-cannon  Close-in weapon systems , or CIWS. They were also larger to increase the likelihood of achieving a kill in one hit.

Ramjets were used to maintain high speeds over long distances. A ramjet uses incoming air at high speeds to achieve compression instead of using a compressor, saving on fuel. However, a ramjet needs a boost from another source to help it achieve that airflow in the first place. In the case of the BrahMos, a rocket provides the initial acceleration before the ramjet takes over.

The BrahMos is actually slightly faster at Mach 2.8 than the P-800. It also weighs  twice as much as a Tomahawk, at six thousand pounds.

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.

Even more importantly, the BrahMos’s ability to maintain supersonic speeds while skimming at low altitude makes it very difficult to detect and intercept. To cap it off, the BrahMos performs an  evasive “S-maneuver” shortly before impact, making it difficult to shoot down at close range.

A modern ship targeted by the BrahMos could respond with layered defenses to shoot down the missiles: ripple-fired medium- and short-range antiaircraft missiles and close-range CIWS. But an effective attack would involve firing multiple missiles in order to overwhelm these defensive countermeasures.

If the attack is launched within 120 kilometers of the target, it can skim at very low altitude the entire way to the target. While missiles can be detected earlier if benefiting from AWACs aircraft, a ship would likely detect a sea-skimming missile at range of only thirty kilometers, affording the vessel only a thirty second time window to respond. One  intriguing analysis  argues that a U.S. Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, with its layered air defenses, could not handle more twelve BrahMos missiles at once and that an entire carrier battle group would be saturated by more than sixty-four.

Of course, though India has some unpleasant memories of an encounter with a U.S. carrier group  in the past,  they probably have a different foe in mind.

In any case, the BrahMos has a major limitation…

The Missile Technology Control Regime: 

The BrahMos has a relatively short range—only 190 miles (290 kilometers)—under half the range of the Russian Oniks missile. This means that BrahMos launch platforms need to be relatively close to their targets—potentially within ranges they may be detected and fired back at.

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.