April 11, 2009: Three months ago, the BrahMos cruise missile failed its first operational test as a ground launched weapon. The Indian Army missile was fired from a truck mounted launcher, and missed its target. The cause was a defective guidance system. The manufacturer fixed that, ran a successful test, and now the army is willing to buy again. But first the army will run some field tests, under combat conditions, and fire the missile at its maximum range of 290 kilometers. The test range in the Pokhran desert only allows tests at up to 52 kilometers. If all this goes as planned, the army would form three BrahMos regiments, each with 12-24 launchers.
The first operational test by the army was delayed as engineers fussed over technical issues. The missile had performed well in development tests. But an operational test means the missile is issued to a combat unit, and fired by a military crew. Russia has had problems like this before, as have all countries. But Russia has had more problems with high tech weapons, like BrahMos, than Western nations.
Last year, India ordered 800 more of the new PJ-10 BrahMos missiles. The Indian Army plans to buy 80 launchers in the next ten years. Russia has not yet ordered any BrahMos, while India is also working on lighter versions for use by aircraft and submarines. A submarine launched version is ready for testing, but the navy has not yet been able to spare ones of its 13 subs to carry out the test. The sub launched version requires the building of a vertical silo behind the conning tower. The navy is not keen to be tearing apart any of its subs for this. So the BrahMos people are waiting for the next six subs to be bought, and arrange for a BrahMos silo to be built in. The air force version of BrahMos will be ready in two years, and two Su-30 aircraft will be made available for tests.
The 3.2 ton BrahMos has a range of 300 kilometers and a 660 pound warhead. Perhaps the most striking characteristic is its high speed, literally faster (at up to 3,000 feet per second) than a rifle bullet. Guidance is GPS or inertial to reach the general area of the target (usually a ship or other small target), then radar that will identify the specific target and hit it. The warhead weighs 660 pounds, and the high speed at impact causes additional damage (because of the weight of the entire missile.)
India and Russia developed the weapon together, and now offer the BrahMos for export. The high price of each missile, about $2.3 million, restricts the number of countries that can afford it. The weapon entered service with the Indian navy in 2005. Different versions of the PJ-10 can be fired from aircraft, ships, ground launchers or submarines. The maximum speed of 3,000 kilometers an hour makes it harder to intercept, and means it takes five minutes or less to reach its target. The air launched version weighs 2.5 tons, the others, three tons or more.
The 29 foot long, 670mm diameter missile is an upgraded version of the Russian SS-NX-26 (Yakhont) missile, which was still in development when the Cold War ended in 1991. Lacking money to finish development and begin production, the Russian manufacturer eventually made a deal with India to finish the job. India put up most of the $240 million needed to finally complete two decades of development. The PJ-10 is being built in Russia and India, with the Russians assisting India in setting up manufacturing facilities for cruise missile components. Efforts are being made to export up to 2,000, but no one has placed an order yet. Russia and India are encouraged enough to invest in BrahMos 2, which will use a scramjet, instead of a ramjet, in the second stage. This would double speed, and make the missile much more difficult to defend against.
India indicates it plans to make the missile a major weapon system. The BrahMos can carry a nuclear warhead, but is designed mainly to go after high value targets that require a large warhead and great accuracy. The BrahMos could take out enemy headquarters, or key weapons systems (especially those employing electronic or nuclear weapons.)