BrahMos: Supersonic Stealth Cruise Missile
On 12 June 2001, the Indo-Russian joint venture,
BrahMos (stands for Brahmaputra-Moskva) Co, successfully test fired a supersonic cruise missile code-named PJ-10. It is a state-of-the-art weapon system and can strike warships at 300 kms in 300 seconds, can mount multiple war-heads, and use stealth properties making it virtually undetectable; it is the only supersonic cruise in existence. The Indian Navy’s capabilities will be greatly augmented after this missile is inducted into service. The PJ-10 will threaten the Harpoon-armed Pakistani warships and the Moskit-equipped Chinese naval vessels. The “seeker” system of the missile, however, is yet to be tested by the Indian Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO).
The conventional missile, which the Americans used against Iraqi targets in Operation Desert Storm and are currently using against the Taliban and Al Qaida in Afghanistan, is a subsonic missile. Its lethality derives from its unique guidance system. Unlike the PJ-10, which is publicized as a “fire and forget” weapon, the US cruise missile uses an onboard computer along with digital terrain-matching maps for navigation. This makes it extremely maneuverable since it can be guided even through windows and around buildings to strike targets. A ballistic missile, once launched, is subject to atmospheric effects and the antics of “hackers” who can interfere with its preset navigational gyro by altering the parameters of the software in the controlling onboard computer. Only the United States possesses digital terrain maps. We may be having the know-how, but do we have the resources to acquire satellite imagery on such a vast scale? Notwithstanding this hurdle, the PJ-10 can be employed effectively by the three services, though it is was basically meant for the Indian (and Russian) Navy as a “sea-skimming” weapon to target hostile ships. The Argentinean Air Force used such missiles with great effect when they sank British shipping with an air-launched version of the French Exocet missiles.
Russia must conform with the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR); hence the restricted 300 km range of the PJ-10. Besides, it uses an air-breathing jet engine in the cruising stage and cannot be used at altitudes where Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) and Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBMs) operate above the atmosphere. These factors inhibit its utility as a nuclear missile at ranges over thousands of kilometers or function with rocket engines that can safely leave and re-enter the atmosphere during their trajectory.
The nuclear submarine project has been underway for a long time. A future Mark of the PJ-10 has been factored into its design. An undersea launch platform (like the US Polaris nuclear submarine) which is difficult to track and engage is the answer to a first-strike strategic posture of Pakistan. A nuclear submarine equipped with a PJ nuclear cruise missile should be our second strike deterrent in a Sino-Indian conflict.
We should exploit the recently signed military technology agreement with the Russians to its fullest potential. The Chakra nuclear submarine, the cryogenic rocket engine, and now the PJ-10, are ways to get around American embargos and sanctions in the post-Pokharan period. It would have taken us at least ten years to test-fire the cruise on our own. With Russian collaboration we have done it in just under four. Therefore, it is possible for us to become one of the sophisticated weapon exporting countries in a decade’s time. The Russians are short of cash and are willing to use military hardware exports for raising funds. We have the wherewithal to do this with the PJ-10 which has indigenous internal guidance and software.