By Milind Kulshreshtha
On Tuesday, INS Visakhapatnam successfully test fired the advanced version of BrahMos Supersonic Cruise missile. These missile firing trials established the efficacy of Brahmos as the primary anti-ship armament onboard indigenously constructed warships of the Indian Navy. INS Visakhapatnam is the latest generation 7400 tonnes Project-15B Destroyer commissioned in Nov’2021, with three more warships in this class (viz. Mormugao, Imphal, Surat) too planned to be commissioned in the next few years. A warship like INS Visakhapatnam is capable of more than a month-long sailing in open seas and has a reach of thousands of kilometers. These long-range warships can get close enough to an adversary to launch its Brahmos arsenal to annihilate any hostile naval platform or a coastal installation.
SSMs for Indian Navy
Indian Navy has been fielding SSMs on all the frontline warships from the times missiles gained popularity in surface warfare operations, while also complementing the heavy caliber Naval gun mounts to achieve a better target engagement, at far longer ranges. Some of the earlier Soviet era SSM versions like the P-15 series were even operated effectively to carry out the bold attacks on the Karachi harbour during the 1971 war. Subsequent to P-15s, various other versions of the Russian supplied SSMs like P-20/P-21 missile complex, Uran or Klub systems were exploited by the Indian Navy, but a need to standardize the SSM fit across the naval fleet was always felt in order to lower the missile stowage and maintenance costs. It is finally the BrahMos missiles which have emerged as the modern era SSM weapon of choice onboard Indian Naval warships in the 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 Ship, Land, Air and a Submarine based variant. The missile has two distinctive stages, with a solid booster engine achieving supersonic speed and the next stage being a liquid ramjet, which accelerates the missile to about Mach 3 speeds. Thus, the missile’s flight time to reach the target is sharply reduced and this makes the interception of the missile difficult. The intelligent and complex waypoint trajectory of the SSM in a ‘Fire and Forget’ mode is fully automated. As per the OEM specs, the SSM can reach a flight ceiling touching the top of the Troposphere (15Km), while being able to dip to as low as 10m above the surface during its terminal phase. The missile’s mid-course guidance utilizes the Inertial Navigation System and the terminal phase relies on the homing radar seeker. The GPS or GLONASS link augments the accuracy of this missile guidance. A Brahmos missile carrying a 200-300 Kgs conventional warhead impacts the target with a very high kinetic energy, making a molten edifice of the target. The reported range of the missile is 300-400 Km, but the upgraded version of the SSM has an enhanced range of beyond 500 Km, which was permitted after India joined the elite Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).
The salvo mode of BrahMos pertains to a warship firing multiple SSMs in a close sequence so as to engage the same target or distributed targets and can achieve this salvo mode missile firing at an interval of 2 to 2.5 seconds to attain various trajectories. The vertical configuration of Brahmos is popular using Universal Vertical Launcher Module (UVLM), even though some inclined versions were fitted onboard the warships as a SSM complex retrofit.
Integrated Exploitation of Brahmos by Three Services
The induction of Brahmos in the Indian Navy commenced in 2005 and now the Fire Control System and Launcher units interconnected to the Ship’s Data Network. Meanwhile, the Indian Army too have been successfully inducting the Brahmos missiles since 2007. The IAF has also effectively inducted the Air launched version of the Brahmos cruise missile systems onboard Sukhoi-30 MKI. Incidentally, the Su-30MKIs based at Thanjavur form the IAF’s maritime squadron and are closely integrated with the Indian Navy’s sea defence network. Thus, gradually, a standardisation of SSMs across the three services is taking place with the adaptation of Brahmos in Air, Land, Sea and Sub-surface roles, while research to enhance the missile’s effectiveness continues. In order to meet the growing requirement of the SSMs by the Indian Armed Forces, a Brahmos Manufacturing facility has been recently established at Lucknow for carrying out the production of next generation Brahmos (NG) at a pace of about 80-100 missiles per year.
In times to come, it is envisaged that for an optimum use of the missiles, an integration of the Fire Control solution for identification of various overlapping missile coverage zones shall 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 a must as part of Theatre Command regime. This futuristic capability would primarily require a Data Fusion technique to harness the disparate target information reported by multiple sensors fitted onboard various military platforms. World over, this Multi-platform Multi-sensor Data Fusion (MPMSDF) technology has been designed indigenously and is not readily available as an export item.
BrahMos Closer to the South China Sea
In the international scenario, it is likely that the Philippines may be the first importer of Brahmos missiles to augment its shore-based defenses against adversary’s naval flotilla operating in the West Philippine Sea (which forms part of the South China Sea disputed area). For a geographic reference, the Philippines and Taiwan lie to the West of the Philippine Sea, with Japan in the North. The Philippines stakes its claims to the NE section of the Spratly Islands and the Scarborough Shoal. However, China claims the entirety of the island group. China also claims the Scarborough Shoal, regularly deploying its naval patrol there. Further, the waters enclosed within China’s nine-dash line overlaps with the Philippines’ EEZ and continental shelf. In 2016, The Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague gave a ruling in favour of Philippines under UNCLOS. However, China continues to have direct disputes with Philippine despite being a signatory of the UNCLOS treaty and has shown a total disregard to the court’s authority. China also restricts foreign militaries from conducting ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) activities in its ‘self-established’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ). In the South China Sea, China and its SE Asian neighbours (including Philippines) have been entangled in disputes for decades now. The Philippines has been facing a direct influence from Chinese Maritime militia, which are backed up by regular Chinese naval forces.
The deployment of BrahMos by the Philippines shall become a primary deterrent to the Chinese maritime militia, who would avoid venturing into the Brahmos kill zones. Here, the Philippines too has the option to operate the Brahmos as a cluster of SSMs with Command & Guidance mobile units. During any hostilities, the mobile version of a missile complex stands a better survivability chance when compared to a fixed land-based missile site. In 2019, India too had commenced the induction of Next-Generation Maritime Mobile Coastal Batteries (Long Range) or NGMMCB to be equipped with supersonic BrahMos anti-ship missiles for Indian Navy.
While BrahMos continues to be inducted by the three services, the advances in its hardware and flight-trajectories shall keep India ahead of its rapidly evolving adversaries. It is certain that the Brahmos missiles in the present supersonic variant, or the future hypersonic form, shall evolve as the backbone of Surface Warfare for the Indian Armed Forces, providing an integrated multi-domain operational capability under the planned Theatre Command.
(The author is a Strategic Analyst with a keen interest in technology related to C4I solutions and Multiplatform Multi-sensor Data Fusion (MPMSDF). Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).