The Indian Navy is steadily altering the deterrence equation in the Indian Ocean Region. Its extended-range land-attack BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, which was test-fired for the second time, will give the Indian Navy the strategic capability to strike deep inside Pakistan’s territory.
The counter-strike capability that comes from the highly manoeuvrable and one of the fastest supersonic cruise missiles in the world will play the role of an important deterrent in the Indo-Pacific region against a mighty adversary like China.
The Indian Navy announced the successful test on X. “Indian Navy & M/s BAPL (BrahMos Aerospace Private Limited) carried out successful engagement of land target at enhanced range with an advanced supersonic cruise missile. This endeavour revalidates ‘Aatma Nirbharta’ (self-reliance) for extended range precision strike capability from combat & mission-ready ships,” the Indian Navy posted.
The test highlights the Indian Navy’s ability to strike even “deeper and influence land operations further away from sea” when and where required. Besides the enhanced range, the new missile has increased accuracy by introducing an active radar seeker.
The last such test was conducted on March 5, 2022, from stealth destroyer INS Chennai. The missile hit its target with pinpoint accuracy after traversing an extended-range trajectory and performing complex manoeuvres. Both Brahmos missile and INS Chennai are indigenously built.
Later, on March 23, 2022, the Indian Army successfully test-fired the extended-range version of a surface-to-surface BrahMos supersonic cruise missile from a launch pad in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
A retired Indian Navy officer told the EurAsian Times: “It (the test) extends Indian Navy’s standoff capability to engage strategic land targets from sea, at a longer range, while remaining outside the range of enemy’s coastal and missile defences.”
The baseline version of BrahMos that has been fitted into several Indian Navy warships has a range of 298 kilometers to meet the stipulations of the Missile Technology Control Regime.
India entered the MTCR club in June 2016 and thus began the work on enhancing the range of BrahMos further. The Indian Navy has refrained from giving the new extended range of the missiles, but the experts put it between 450 to 500 kilometers.
In Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh, along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China, the BrahMos missiles have been deployed. Additionally, these missiles are being fitted into more than forty Sukhoi fighter aircraft, enhancing the force’s combat capacity.
In the early phases, BrahMos could be utilized for targeted strikes on heavily protected sites that are too risky for manned fighter aircraft to attack, such as airbases, headquarters, important roads, railways, or supply dumps.
The enhanced range version is yet to be inducted into the Indian armed forces.
The missile has air, land, sea, and submarine-launched variants. In 2018, India successfully carried out the maiden test firing of the over 290 km-range submarine-launched version of BrahMos supersonic cruise missile in the Bay of Bengal, becoming the first country in the world to have this capability.
“The real game changer would be firing the BrahMos-ER from a submarine. Combining stealth with extended range, a submarine could threaten targets in Pakistan, north of Larkana,” the retired naval officer added. Owing to the ‘no first use’ policy, India needs to have a credible counter-strike capability, and sea and submarine-launched BrahMos give them this capability.
Supersonic BrahMos Beats Tomahawk Missiles?
BrahMos is a modification of Soviet-era anti-ship missiles (Oniks, Yakont) developed by the Reutov Design Bureau in the late 1980s. The name is a portmanteau derived from India’s Brahmaputra and Russia’s Moskva rivers.
The first test launch was conducted on June 12, 2001, at the Chandipur range in Odisha, India, and subsequently, the missiles began production at enterprises in both countries.
BrahMos is technically a ramjet-powered supersonic cruise missile with a solid propellant booster that can be launched from land-based canisters, submarines, ships, and aircraft. It travels at speeds of Mach 2.8 to 3.0 but is being upgraded to travel faster than Mach 5.0. for the hypersonic variant.
One of its special features is its ability to fly extremely close to the ground to avoid missile defence systems. In fact, during the terminal phase, the missile can fly as low as 10 meters to the ground.
In the final phase, the missile relies on active radar seeker or inertial guidance. The capability of the missile was demonstrated when it was accidentally fired by India and managed to hit the pre-fed target in Pakistan undetected.
Cruise missiles are designed to be fired from a larger distance from their target to keep them away from enemy fire. Ramjets help in maintaining high speeds over long distances.
Tomahawk is an American-developed cruise missile. The American cruise missile can be launched from ships and aircraft. Weighing 2900 pounds, the missile can cruise up to 1000 miles at a speed of 500 miles per hour before hitting the target.
The BrahMos cruises at a speed of Mach 2.8. It weighs twice as much as a Tomahawk and is four times faster than a Tomahawk because of which it can deliver more kinetic energy while striking the target, wreaking havoc despite a smaller warhead.
The other distinct feature of BrahMos is maintaining supersonic speeds while flying at low altitudes. This makes it difficult to detect and intercept. Just before the impact, the BrahMos missile performs an evasive “S-maneuver,” making it difficult for the enemy’s defences to bring it down at close range.
BrahMos missiles can overwhelm the layered defences of any modern warship. When launched within 120 kilometres of the target, the BrahMos missiles will skim at a very low altitude the entire way to the target.
A target warship would only be able to detect incoming BrahMos skimming the sea surface at a distance of 30 kilometres, giving the vessel only a 30-second time window to respond.