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No Foreign Love For BrahMos
by James Dunnigan
December 11, 2013

On November 18th the Indian Army successfully tested a new version (Block III) of its BrahMos supersonic cruise missile. This version has a penetrating warhead and a more accurate guidance system for hitting bunkers and other well protected targets. BrahMos has a range of 290 kilometers and is a joint India-Russia upgrade of the older Yakhont missile. In 2009, the BrahMos Block II cruise missile failed its first operational test as a ground launched weapon. The cause was a defective guidance system, which was fixed and development of the ground based version continued. So also did work on versions for the navy and air force.

The PJ-10 BrahMos missile is a 9.4 meter (29 foot) long and 670mm diameter missile. Lacking money to finish Yakhont development and begin production, the Russian manufacturer eventually made a deal with India to get it done. India put up most of the $240 million needed to finally complete two decades of development, an effort which produced the long delayed Yakhont and the more capable BrahMos.

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 the speed and make the missile much more difficult to defend against.

The 3.2 ton BrahMos has a range of up to 300 kilometers and a 300 kg (660 pound) warhead. Perhaps the most striking characteristic is its high speed, literally faster (at up to a kilometer per second) than a rifle bullet. 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 while the others are three tons or more. The BrahMos can carry a nuclear warhead but is designed mainly to go after high value targets that require great accuracy and a large conventional warhead. The BrahMos could take out enemy headquarters or key weapons systems (especially those employing electronic or nuclear weapons).  The high price of each missile, about $2.3 million, restricts the number of countries that can afford it. Russia has not yet ordered any BrahMos, although there are plans to obtain it for new surface ships.

The weapon entered service with the Indian navy in 2005 and the army in 2010. The Indian army and navy have so far bought over a thousand BrahMos. The navy is arming most of its large warships with BrahMos and the army is buying 80 launchers in the next eight years. A similar lightweight version is being developed for submarines. In 2012, India ordered 200 of the lighter (2.5 tons) air-launched version of the BrahMos missile from Russia. This version is still being tested.

Yakhont (officially 3M55E, NATO ID is SSN-26) anti-ship missiles are still around, and some were recently delivered to Syria. This is a new version with a much improved guidance system. The ground based Yakhont can use truck mounted or fixed launchers, with up to 36 missiles supported by a land based search radar and helicopter mounted radars (to locate targets over the horizon). Once a target has been identified and located, one or two missiles are programmed with that location and launched. The Yakhont is an 8.9 meter (27.6 foot) long, three ton missile, with a 300 kg (660 pound) warhead. A Yakhont battery consists of one control vehicle, four launchers, and several more trucks carrying security and maintenance personnel and equipment. The missiles can be stored in their launch containers for seven years before they require major component replacements and refurbishment to stay operational. Yakhonts have a range of 300 kilometers and are very hard to stop.

Yakhont was under development throughout the 1990s, but was delayed by lack of funds. Then India offered to invest some cash. By 2011, Yakhont was in production and Russia was energetically seeking export sales. The Yakhont uses a liquid-fuel ramjet and travels at speeds of over 2,000 kilometers an hour (using a high altitude cruise and a low-altitude approach, if it travels entirely at low altitude the range is cut to 120km). When the missile arrives in the area where the target is supposed to be, it turns on its radar and goes for the kill. So far Syria, Indonesia, and Vietnam have been the only export customers.

 


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