BrahMos Cruise Missile Project Sets The Gold Standard For Russian-Indian Joint Defence Projects

Brahmos Cruise Missile
There has been a lot of talk recently about
growing competition on India’s arms market, which is crucial for Russia. In
Soviet times, Russia supplied some 75-80 per cent of the weapons for India’s
Army, Air Force and Navy but now, as India matures financially, it is opting
increasingly for more expensive western armaments. Back in the 1980s, German
and French supplies brought India submarines and Mirage 2000 fighters and, in
1990, Israel broke in, making India one of its biggest sales markets, along
with the US. Finally, the last ten years have seen a significant boost to
Indian-US military and technical ties, with US’s sales of military transport
and antisubmarine aircraft nearing $10 billion.  
In this situation, the best way for Russia to
retain its position in India is to revise the trade paradigm of military and
technical cooperation, shifting the focus to joint projects based on
risk-sharing partnership, whereby the parties invest jointly in creation,
production and promotion of products. Today, Russia and India have two joint
defence projects, including the BrahMos programme for designing, producing and
marketing supersonic stealth cruise missiles, and a project for building the
MTA multirole medium transport aircraft. During Russian President Medvedev’s
visit to India in December 2010, a contract was also signed to design India’s
version of the Fifth Generation Fighter
Aircraft (FGFA), which
potentially means yet another joint undertaking. 
While the МТА programme has not yet shown any
impressive progress, the BrahMos project can be seen as the ‘gold standard’ for
joint military manufacturing programmes, effectively combining such factors as
commercial profit for Russian and Indian partners, a tangible improvement in
the combat ability of the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force, and development of
new technologies, which is particularly important for India. Perhaps the
project’s most valuable result is the accumulated experience of resolving
difficult legislative, organisational and financial problems. In the future,
this experience will be used for new joint programmes, including for the FGFA
What makes this programme so unique is that
India is, in fact, buying one of its first standardised weapons systems that
can be deployed by all three armed services – the Army, the Navy and the Air
The Indian Navy was the first customer for the
BrahMos missile, which can be carried by a wide range of naval platforms,
including most existing and future surface ships. The first ships to be
equipped with BrahMos were Project 61ME (Kashin-Mod class) destroyers. Two of
them, the Ranvir and the Ranvijay, will also be fitted with 8-missile vertical
launch systems. Other ships that will carry BrahMos include three Project 15A
(Kolkata class) destroyers, which are currently under construction in India,
the future Project 15B destroyers, future Project 17A frigates, and three
Project 11356M (Talwar class Batch 2) frigates now being built for India at the
Yantar Shipyards in Kaliningrad. The future Talwar class Batch 3 frigates will
also be equipped with the new missile, irrespective of where they are built, be
it Russia or India.

In addition to surface ships, the Indian Navy
plans to deploy BrahMos on submarines and, possibly, on land-based patrol
aircraft. The suitable airborne carriers include the Russian Il-38SD ASW
aircraft and, in a few years’ time, the Boeing P-8I Poseidon ASW, which India
has already ordered from the United States. It seems that the Indian Navy wants
to make BrahMos its core weapon. The new missile’s long range (up to 280 km),
high speed and powerful warhead will give Indian fighters not just a military
advantage but absolute dominance over Pakistan’s ship groups, also creating a
significant deterrent to China’s fast-growing navy.  
Another major customer is India’s land forces,
which are buying BrahMos missiles in the mobile land-based configuration. These
will be used not only against ships but also as high-precision weapons against
land targets, such as command posts and key military, public and economic
infrastructure facilities (the Block II LACM version). The Indian Army ordered
134 mobile anti-ship land-based BrahMos Block I missiles in 2006-2009 and
another 240 land-attack BrahMos Block II in 2010, to a total of about 3 billion
US dollars. 
Finally, the Indian Air Force is awaiting
completion of research and development for an air-launched version of BrahMos,
to be deployed primarily on Su-30 MKI fighters, with first deliveries expected
in 2012. The Indian Air Force also plans to buy the BrahMos Block II version,
which is designed to engage land targets. Currently, the Sukhoi Design Bureau
is carrying out research and development to deploy the air-launched version of
the missile on the Su-30 MKI. This will apparently become the focus for
modernising the Su-30 MKI under the Super 30 programme. Indeed, the aircraft
was designed in the early 1990s and is not due for an upgrade: an active phased
array radar will be installed, along with BrahMos missiles.
All this is also of interest to Russian
customers. Currently, BrahMos missiles and their Russian analogue, the Yakhont,
are arguably the most powerful non-nuclear anti-ship weapons deployed in Russia
and India and the Su-30 MKI is the only suitable carrier. The Russian Air Force
plans, therefore, to order 28 Su-30 SM fighters, which will be technically
similar to the Indian version, the only difference being that the Israeli and
some French systems will be replaced by Russian ones. Russia’s Navy is also
considering the possibility of buying 12 such aircraft for its own purposes.
In this respect, acquisition of BrahMos
missiles would come in very handy. And it is not about Russian-made Yakhont
missiles, but about BrahMos. From a military and technical perspective, this
would mean acquisition by the Russian armed forces of the hugely effective
Su-30 SM-BrahMos system, which would revolutionise the alliance of forces, for
example, in the Black Sea region. And politically, it would underline the joint
nature of the project. The Indians are extremely concerned about any symbols of
their industrial and technological progress and acquisition by Russia of Indian
products would be very much appreciated in a country that pays billions of
dollars for Russian weapons every year. 
Strange as it might seem, the success of the
BrahMos programme has boosted Russia’s chances of promoting its air and naval
platforms on the Indian market. Normally, is the opposite would be the case:
export of platforms opens up opportunities for missile supplies to be deployed
on these platforms. But with BrahMos, it is the missiles that have become the
driving force. So the Rubin Design Bureau is creating a special version of
Russia’s new Project 677 (Аmur class) submarine to carry BrahMos anti-ship
missiles as its main weapon system. This raises the submarine’s chance of
winning India’s tender for six submarines worth up to $10 billion.

And last but not least, the BrahMos Aerospace
joint venture has become a vehicle for further Russian-Indian projects, on an
even larger scale and with greater Indian participation. The company is known
to be already working on a new hypersonic missile. The unique experience
accumulated since 1998 as part of the BrahMos project has paved the way for
even more ambitious goals, including new strategic ballistic and cruise