Paris Air Show

Joint venture BrahMos to arm India’s Flankers

 - June 5, 2009, 11:10 AM

India’s air force is planning to arm its growing fleet of Sukhoi Su-30MKI Flanker-H fighters with anti-ship missiles developed by the Russian-Indian joint venture BrahMos Aerospace. The missiles are expected to be ready to enter service in 2012 and are intended to bolster the air force’s ability to neutralize naval threats while they are still far from India’s coast.

According to the manufacturer, the new missile’s speed (around Mach 3) gives it a better chance of beating a ship’s air defenses. It has a range of almost 157 nm, making it suitable for use in beyond-visual-range standoff attacks. The weapon is equipped with a smart guidance system that can be programmed for target identification and choice of attack priorities.

In March, India’s Defence Research and Development Organization–which cofounded BrahMos Aerospace with its Russian partners–conducted tests to assess the missile’s potential for destroying small targets with a low-radar cross section. The ultimate aim is to give the Indian air force the ability to attack targets protected by powerful defense systems, including aircraft carriers.

Initially, the BrahMos missile was developed as a weapon for ships, submarines and various land-based systems. It is now being introduced with the Indian navy as well, and the company is also developing another version for the army, from which it has a contract for 134 missiles and 10 launchers.

“For the airborne version we had to reduce the mass of the missile and to ensure aerodynamic stability after its separation from the aircraft,” explained BrahMos Aerospace CEO Dr. Sivathanu Pillai. “The air-launched platform has its own initial speed during the launch of the missile, so we have reduced the size of the booster.” 

BrahMos aerospace has also indicated ambitions to develop a hypersonic BrahMos-II missile with speeds of between Mach 5 and 7. However, it is not yet clear whether this could be used to arm the Su-30MKI fighters.

Pointing to strong performance both in service and during joint operations with U.S. as well as European combat aircraft, the Sukhoi design bureau and Irkut Aviation Plant, which builds the Su-30MKI, believe it has further potential for upgrades that will enhance its export potential. In addition to weapons upgrades, such as the new BrahMos missile, there is also scope for further enhancing the fighter’s avionics suite.

Irkut had expected to have to cease production of the Su-30MKI in 2014 when existing contracts were due to be delivered in full. However, the company now believes that upgrades like the BrahMos missile will boost its prospects of securing further orders from countries such as India, Malaysia and Algeria.

BrahMos Aerospace was established following the signing of a 1998 cooperation agreement between India and Russia. According to the company, other sales prospects exist in Brazil, South Africa and Chile and it expects to produce more than 2,000 missiles over the next 20 years.