Artillery: Worthy Targets

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September 27, 2019: The Indian Navy has ordered two batteries of their PJ-10 BrahMos missiles for coastal defense. Each battery has two truck-mounted launchers, each with three missiles and communications equipment. Each battery also has a mobile radar for detecting targets via normal radar or by detecting and locating ship radar. These also include a mobile air-defense radar and shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles. This is basically the same equipment as was tested and acquired by the army in 2007 for using BrahMos to hit land-based targets. In early 2007 India successfully tested the surface-to-surface version of its BrahMos missiles. The land-based anti-ship version was test-fired in 2010 and a submarine-launched version in 2013.

The land-based missiles are carried, three to a truck, on a 12 wheel vehicle which also acts as a launcher. The three ton missile has a range of 500 kilometers and has a 200 kg (440 pound) warhead. Perhaps the most striking characteristic of the BrahMos is its high speed, literally faster (at up to 5,000 feet per second) than a rifle bullet. Used against hostile surface warships, BrahMos is hard to stop.

This is not the first land-based version of this missile. The army BrahMos battalion has four launcher vehicles, plus support vehicles and sixty missiles. Do the math, that's over $150 million for one battalion. The coastal batteries cost $95 million each and are meant to protect major cities, as needed. One advantage is that these batteries can be moved around, making it more difficult for someone to destroy them before they could be used.

India and Russia developed this missile together and offered 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 the air, from ships or submarines. The maximum speed of 4,900 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 8.4m (28 foot) long, 600mm diameter missile is an upgraded version of the Russian SS-NX-26 (Yakhont) missile, which was in development when the Cold War ended in 1991. Lacking money to finish development and begin production, the Russian manufacturer made a deal with India to finish the job. India put up most of the $240 million needed to complete two decades of development. The PJ-10 is being built in Russia, with India as the initial customer. China and Iran have also expressed interest in the weapon, but only Malaysia, Chile, South Africa, Kuwait and the UAE (United Arab Emirates) have been approached with a sales pitch. One unnamed Asian nation placed an order in 2016 and it is unknown if those have been delivered. So far the only users are India and Russia.

The United States is eager to prevent Iran or China from getting the BrahMos, which was originally developed as an aircraft carrier killer. That's why it has the high speed and elaborate guidance system. And that's why it's so expensive. A similar American weapon, the ATACMS rocket, also has a range of 300 kilometers, uses GPS guidance, and has a 227 kg (500 pound) warhead. ATACMS costs a million dollars each, but are not as fast and lack an elaborate terminal guidance system.

The land version of BrahMos was seen as an effective coast defense weapon even before the army received its truck-mounted missiles in 2007. For example, if the Iranians got several dozen land-launched BrahMos missiles, they could pose a real threat to any ships using the Straits of Hormuz. In other words, the BrahMos missile could close those straits, through which most of the worlds’ oil supplies pass. Russia would benefit from that because the price of their oil exports would climb. India would not like it, as they import oil from the Persian Gulf. India and Russia are both supposed to have a veto over who can buy BrahMos. So while Russia might like to sell Iran BrahMos, India would probably object.

For the army, the most likely targets for their BrahMos are Pakistani or Chinese land bases. Against ships, you can justify a $3 million missile, but there are few land targets, within range of the BrahMos, that is worth the cost. Moreover, India has cheaper ballistic missiles for that sort of thing, as well as bomb and missile carrying jets. BrahMos was designed to hit a moving target, and do so at high speed, to make defensive measures less effective. To that end, India is developing the air-launched version, which will be carried by its Su-30 fighters. There might also eventually be a cheaper land-based version, using a less expensive guidance system (like GPS) for stationary land targets. India and Russia plan to manufacture about a thousand BrahMos over the next ten years, including those needed for export.

 


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