New Delhi: Indian and Russian missile scientists are now tweaking a formidable capability into the air-launched Brahmos supersonic cruise missile, an ability to shatter airaircraft carriers from extended ranges.
The first test of the air-launched Brahmos is to be conducted in the Bay of Bengal sometime in December this year. A derelict naval warship is to be hit by a Brahmos launched from a specially modified Su-30MKI.
The December test window follows the successful integration and drop test of a Brahmos missile from a modified Su-30MKI at HAL, Nashik on June 25.
Reports from the sidelines of the recently concluded BRICS summit in Goa quoted President Vladimir Putin on plans to increase the range of the 290-km Indo-Russian Brahmos missile. This follows India’s entry into the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) club in June 2016. (Non MTCR members cannot access technology for missiles with ranges over 300 km).
The army and the navy already operated land and sea-based versions of the Brahmos missile inducted in 1998. The IAF will become the third service to field the missile with the air-launched test of the missile in December.
The test will hit the warship target at an angle of 65 degrees and destroy it. But this capability would not enough to stop an aircraft carrier of over 60,000 tonnes. “Carriers have sealable compartments designed to survive multiple hits from anti-ship missiles,” one missile scientist says.
This is where Phase 2 of the Brahmos missile test comes in next year-fitting a modified radar seeker on the missile that can lock onto a moving aircraft carrier and plunge onto its decks in a near 90-degree death dive.
“The sheer kinetic energy of the missile travelling at nearly three times the speed of sound and the high explosive warhead will destroy the aircraft carrier,” a scientist says. This development comes amidst reports of China’s aircraft carrier programme. China inducted a refurbished Sovietbuild aircraft carrier, the 67,000-tonne Liaoning, in 2012.
It is building two aircraft carriers, the first of which photographs leaked onto online forums revealed as a Type 001A aircraft carrier being built in China’s Dalian shipyard. The first carrier, with a displacement estimated at between 60,000 and 70,000 tonnes, is likely to be inducted into the PLA Navy by 2020.
China has claimed to have modified its DF-21D medium range ballistic missiles into antiship ballistic missiles (ASBMs). The capability was developed specifically to target US aircraft carriers from ground-based launchers over 1700-km away.
Naval analysts say it is still early days before India can field a similar carrier-killing capability. “The missile has to tick a number of boxes before it can be called a carrier killer,” says former navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash (retired). “The missile has to be able to acquire the carrier over 300 km away, escape radar jamming from its target and, finally, home in on the target and destroy it.”
Brahmos scientists say they are confident of meeting all these challenges. Some of these capabilities, they say, were demonstrated in a very significant test of the Brahmos in May 2015. A Brahmos missile launcher was airlifted by an IAF C-17 Globemaster III to the Andaman Islands.
A surface-to-surface version of the missile was fired and successfully hit a target on an island nearly 300 km away. The missile navigated through a series of waypoints before hitting the target within a 5-metre circular error probable (CEP).