Two significant long-range missile programs were showcased at India’s DefExpo2018 event held in Chennai from April 11 to 14. India’s defense ministry and its Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) displayed a full-scale mockup of the ground-launched Nirbhay cruise missile. The Indo-Russian BrahMos Aerospace joint venture showed the “Next Generation” version of its supersonic missile.
The Nirbhay is similar in size and performance to the U.S. Tomahawk and Russia’s Caliber 3M54/3M14 cruise missiles. It is six meters (19.7 feet) long and has a cylindrical body with diameter of 0.52 m (67 inches). According to local sources, the Nirbhay can carry a conventional or nuclear warhead over a distance of 1,500 km/808 nm. Its production should have commenced last year. Separately, the DRDO put on display an indigenously developed “Small Turbofan Engine” that might power the Nirbhay.
Clearly, this missile is a strategic weapon that will supplement ballistic missiles already in the Indian service. These include the K-15/B-05 series with a range of 750 km/405 nm developed for the S73 Arihant nuclear-powered submarine that was commissioned in 2016. The follow-on K-4, now in the testing, has a range boosted to 3,500 km/1,890 nm. According to local sources, this missile is larger, at 12 m (39.4 ft) long and 1.3 m (51 in) in diameter, and weighs 17 tons. Between these two naval systems there is the Dhanush intended for launch from a mobile land platform. Weighing 5,600 kg (12,346 lb), this missile has a length of 8.56 m (28 ft) and a body diameter of 1 m (39.4 in).
The Dhanush’s reported maximum range is 300 km/162 nm, which is similar to the original cruise missile from the BrahMos joint venture, which is designated PJ-10. The BrahMos-NG that is now in development is smaller in diameter and length than the PJ-10, and can therefore fit the standard 533mm torpedo tubes in widespread use on submarines and surface warships. It is primarily intended for submarines, although an air-launched version is also planned. The Brahmos-NG seems to have replaced the hypersonic Brahmos-II that was previously a focus of development by the joint venture.
However, the Brahmos-NG is still faster than the PJ-10 (Mach 3.5 versus Mach 2.8) and has a longer range (more than 300 km/162 nm versus a maximum 290/157 nm km).
Moreover, the BrahMos-NG will have a newly developed AESA radar seeker in place of the mechanically scanned one on the PJ-10.
The Indian air force would benefit from adopting the Brahmos-NG, since three of them could be carried by its Su-30MKI multirole fighters, instead of one PJ-10. Besides, the aircraft would be able to land with one or two missiles on wing pylons, whereas landing safely with a standard missile attached to the center fuselage pylon is not possible.
Meanwhile, flight-testing of the air-launched Brahmos is being conducted using a pair of specially modified Su-30MKI. The first midair firing was successfully accomplished in November 2017.
BrahMos Aerospace believes it can develop, test and put the Brahmos-NG into production as a follow-on to the PJ-10. By that time, the number of surface warships in service with the Indian navy and armed with these missiles would rise from the current 11 to 20. Production for the Indian army, of the version that fits in mobile transporter-erector-launchers, would also have been completed by that time.
Also at the test-firing stage is the BrahMos-ER, suffix for “Extended Range,” which is reportedly increased to 450 km/243 nm. The first launch was in March of last year. Development of this version for ground, ship and submarine launch, became lawful following India joining over 30 other nations that signed the Missile Technology Control Regime.