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The Chinese BrahMos
by James Dunnigan
December 15, 2012

China found its first export customer (Pakistan) for its new CM-400AKG supersonic cruise missile. With a max range of 250 kilometers and a guidance system that includes GPS, onboard radar, and an image recognition system that can identify a specific target, this new missile uses its high speed to evade defenses on ships. In all these respects the CM-400AKG is very similar to the Indo-Russian BrahMos. One major difference between the two missiles is that the CM-400AKG is still in development and there is no evidence of tests. This “sale” may be a ploy by the Chinese manufacturer to determine if it will be worth the huge expense to actually make this missile work.

To understand that conundrum, consider the background of the missile the CM-400AKG is so similar to. BrahMos is a 3.2 ton missile with a range of 300 kilometers and a 300 kg (660 pound) warhead. Perhaps the most striking characteristic is its high speed, literally faster (at up to 1,000 meters/3,100 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 a radar that will identify the specific target and hit it. The high speed at impact causes additional damage (because of the weight of the entire missile). All this is almost identical with the CM-400AKG.

India and Russia developed the weapon together and now offer it for export. The high price of each missile, about $2-3 million (depending on the version), restricts the number of countries that can afford it. The weapon entered service with the Indian navy in 2005. Different versions of the missile 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 9.4 meter (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 put up most of the $240 million needed to finally complete two decades of development. The BrahMos 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.

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