Next-generation Brahmos surface missiles: a key emerging weaponry in the Indo-Pacific
INS Visakhapatnam is the latest generation 7400 ton Project-15B destroyer commissioned in November 2021, with three other warships of this class (namely Mormugao, Imphal, Surat) also expected to be commissioned in the coming years.
By Milind Kulshreshtha
On Tuesday, INS Visakhapatnam successfully tested the advanced version of the BrahMos Supersonic Cruise missile. These missile-firing trials established the effectiveness of the Brahmos as the primary anti-shipping armament aboard the Indian Navy’s locally built warships. INS Visakhapatnam is the latest generation 7400 ton Project-15B destroyer commissioned in November 2021, with three other warships of this class (namely Mormugao, Imphal, Surat) also expected to be commissioned in the coming years. A warship like the INS Visakhapatnam is capable of sailing for over a month on the high seas and has a range of thousands of kilometres. These long-range warships can get close enough to an adversary to launch their Brahmos arsenal to annihilate any hostile naval platforms or coastal installations.
SSM for Indian Navy
The Indian Navy has deployed SSMs on all frontline warships since the days when missiles gained popularity in surface warfare operations, while supplementing large caliber naval gun mounts to achieve better engagement of targets, at much longer ranges. Some of the earlier Soviet-era versions of the SSM, such as the P-15 series, were even effectively exploited to carry out the daring attacks on the port of Karachi during the 1971 war. Following the P-15s, various other versions of Russian-supplied SSMs like the P-20/P-21 missile complex, Uran or Klub systems have been operated by the Indian Navy, but the need to standardize the fit of SSM in the fleet naval force has always been felt in order to reduce the cost of stowage and maintenance of missiles. It was ultimately the BrahMos missiles that became the modern era SSM weapon of choice aboard Indian Navy warships for decades to come.
Lethality of Brahmos missiles
The BrahMos Aerospace established in 1998 as a joint venture between India’s DRDO and Russia’s NPO Mashinostroyenia has a variant based on ship, land, air and submarine. The missile has two separate stages, with a solid booster engine reaching supersonic speeds and the next stage being a liquid ramjet, which accelerates the missile to speeds around Mach 3. Thus, the missile’s flight time for hitting the target is greatly reduced and this makes it difficult to intercept the missile. The intelligent and complex waypoint trajectory of the SSM in “Fire and Forget” mode is fully automated. According to OEM specifications, the SSM can reach a flight ceiling touching the top of the troposphere (15 km), while being able to dive up to 10 m above the surface during its terminal phase. The mid-course guidance of the missile uses the inertial navigation system and the terminal stage relies on the homing radar seeker. The GPS or GLONASS link increases the precision of this missile guidance. A Brahmos missile carrying a 200-300 kg conventional warhead strikes the target with very high kinetic energy, creating a molten edifice of the target. The missile’s reported range is 300-400 km, but the upgraded version of the SSM has an improved range of over 500 km, which was cleared after India joined the elite tech control regime missiles (MTCR).
BrahMos salvo mode is for a warship firing multiple SSMs in a close sequence so as to engage the same target or distributed targets and can achieve this missile firing in salvo mode at an interval of 2-2.5 seconds to achieve various trajectories. The Brahmos upright configuration is popular using the Universal Vertical Launch Module (UVLM), although some angled versions have been installed aboard naval vessels as complex SSM retrofits.
Integrated operation of Brahmos by three services
The induction of Brahmos into the Indian Navy began in 2005 and now the fire control system and launcher units are interconnected to the ship’s data network. Meanwhile, the Indian Army has also successfully introduced the Brahmos missiles since 2007. The IAF has also effectively introduced the Air-launched version of the Brahmos cruise missile systems aboard the Sukhoi-30 MKI. Incidentally, the Thanjavur-based Su-30MKIs form the IAF’s maritime squadron and are tightly integrated into the Indian Navy’s maritime defense network. Thus, progressively, a standardization of the SSMs in the three services takes place with the adaptation of Brahmos to the Air, Land, Sea and Sub-surface roles, while research to improve the efficiency of the missile continues. In order to meet the increasing requirement of SSMs by the Indian Armed Forces, a Brahmos manufacturing plant was recently established in Lucknow to carry out the production of next generation Brahmos (NG) at a rate of approximately 80-100 missiles per year.
In the coming times, it is envisioned that for optimal missile utilization, an integration of Fire Control solution for identification of various overlapping missile coverage areas will be the next evolutionary development for the Indian Armed Forces. However, to achieve such an integrated approach against surface targets, a tactical information sharing interaction between the three services is essential as part of the theater command regime. This futuristic capability would primarily require a data fusion technique to exploit disparate target information reported by multiple sensors installed aboard various military platforms. Worldwide, this cross-platform, multi-sensor data fusion technology (MPMSDF) was designed locally and is not readily available as an export item.
BrahMos closer to the South China Sea
In the international scenario, the Philippines is likely to be the first Brahmos missile importer to strengthen its land defenses against the adversary’s naval flotilla operating in the Western Philippine Sea (part of the disputed area of the Sea of southern China). For geographical reference, the Philippines and Taiwan lie to the west of the Philippine Sea, with Japan to the north. The Philippines stakes its claim to the northeastern section of the Spratly Islands and the Scarborough Shoal. However, China claims the entire island group. China also claims the Scarborough Shoal, regularly deploying its naval patrol there. Furthermore, the waters within China’s nine-dash line overlap the EEZ and the continental shelf of the Philippines. In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines under UNCLOS. However, China continues to have direct disputes with the Philippines despite being a signatory to the UNCLOS treaty and has shown complete disregard for the court’s authority. China also prohibits foreign military personnel from carrying out ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) activities in its “self-established” exclusive economic zone (EEZ). In the South China Sea, China and its Southeast Asian neighbors (including the Philippines) have been embroiled in disputes for decades. The Philippines has faced direct influence from the Chinese maritime militia, which is supported by regular Chinese naval forces.
The deployment of BrahMos by the Philippines would become a primary deterrent for Chinese maritime militia to avoid venturing into Brahmos killing areas. Here, the Philippines also has the option of operating the Brahmos as an SSM group with mobile command and guidance units. During all hostilities, the mobile version of a missile complex has a better chance of survival compared to a stationary ground missile site. In 2019, India had also started the induction of Next Generation Maritime Mobile Coastal Batteries (Long Range) or NGMMCB to be fitted with BrahMos supersonic anti-ship missiles for the Indian Navy.
As BrahMos continues to be inducted by all three services, advancements in its hardware and flight paths will keep India ahead of its rapidly changing adversaries. It is certain that the Brahmos missiles in the current supersonic variant, or future hypersonic form, will evolve as the backbone of surface warfare for the Indian Armed Forces, providing an integrated multi-domain operational capability under the command of planned theatre.
(The author is a strategic analyst with a keen interest in technology related to C4I solutions and Multi-Platform, Multi-Sensor Data Fusion (MPMSDF). The opinions expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproduction of this content without permission is prohibited).
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