The air-launched version of the Indian-Russian BrahMos missile family was successfully flight-tested on November 22, according to BrahMos Aerospace. A prototype BrahMos-A was gravity-dropped from an Indian air force Sukhoi Su-30MKI twin-seat multirole fighter before its two-stage engine fired and propelled the missile toward “a sea-based target in the Bay of Bengal,” the company stated.
BrahMos Aerospace is the joint venture that was established by Moscow and Delhi in 1998 to undertake development and production of an exportable version of the Yakhont supersonic anti-ship cruise missile, also known as the P-800 Onix, which originated in the NPO Mashinostroenia design bureau based at Reutov near Moscow. The BrahMos-A is now expected to enter service within a year or two. Earlier, the Indian government cleared the Indian air force request for funds to procure some 200 of these missiles.
At 2,500 kg (5,510 pounds), the air-launched version is about 450 to 500 kg (990 to 1,100 pounds) lighter than the initial weapon intended for sea-going platforms. The weight reduction is achieved by removing the powder booster that is not necessary when the missile is air-dropped. The BrahMos-A also features a reworked nose cone and additional aerodynamic surfaces for better stability and controllability in the early stages of flight.
Indian defense minister Raksha Mantri Smt Sitharaman congratulated his Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and BrahMos Aerospace for “an outstanding accomplishment.” In turn, DRDO chairman Dr. S. Christopher praised the BrahMos-A developers for “this excellent textbook flight test.”
Aleksandr Leonov, general director and designer at NPO Mashinostroenia, believes that the November 22 event marks “completion of the development process on an absolutely universal weapon, one that is qualified for all launch platforms.” These include ground firings from transporter-erector-launchers (TELs) on wheeled chassis; and firings from surface warships and submarines, as well as aircraft. This is the first supersonic strike missile in the world to be so qualified, he noted.
While development and deployment of the ship- and land-launched missiles went well and on time, that of the air-launched version suffered repeated delays. In 2009, India agreed to dedicate two Su-30MKIs for use as carriers for experimental BrahMos-A weapons. These aircraft were sent to Russia for modifications and flight testing to prove the type capable of carrying a heavy and bulky weapon on the reworked central pylon, with some necessary airframe and undercarriage beef-ups.
Apart from at Sukhoi, some Brahmos-related work on the aircraft was done by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), BrahMos Aerospace and DRDO subdivisions. The aircraft registration SB 173 featuring a new central pylon, and a full-scale missile mockup was demonstrated statically at the AeroIndia show in 2013. This aircraft performed an air-drop of a dummy payload in June 2016 when flying from HAL’s Nasik manufacturing plant, site of Su-30MKI licensed production.
While the manufacturer gives the BrahMos-A’s maximum speed as Mach 2.8 and maximum range at 290 km (156 nm), the past spring witnessed the first launch of the BrahMos ER (Extended Range), capable of flying 450 km (243 nm). This was preceded by India’s joining in the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) last year, a treaty between 35 member states that volunteer to restrict exports of strike missiles and combat unmanned vehicles able to transport a 500-kg (1,100-pound) payload over 300 km (162 nm). It is likely, therefore, that deliverable examples of BrahMos missiles to be assembled in future will have a longer reach regardless of launch platforms.
BrahMos Aerospace has additionally announced the BrahMos II all-new hypersonic weapon and the BrahMos-NG derivative of the production version, shorter in length and smaller in diameter. BrahMos Aerospace CEO Sudhir Kumar Mishra told journalists that recent achievements in miniaturizing components of the high-supersonic and hypersonic propulsion systems make it possible to reduce missile size to achieve lower signatures and easier deployment on aircraft and submarines.