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Sukhoi-BrahMos test completes India's cruise missile triad: A look at military and geopolitical significance

When the Indian Air Force (IAF) successfully launched a BrahMos supersonic cruise missile from a Sukhoi-30 combat jet, it was not just another addition to its weapons arsenal. It was in fact India taking a step into uncharted waters as IAF became the first air force in the world to successfully launch a surface attack missile of this category. The test also reflected India's capability to launch the weapon from air, apart from land and sea, thereby completing the cruise missile triad for the country.

The BrahMos is a unique missile as it can be deployed on land, sea and underwater against different types of targets on land and sea, according to Strategic Affairs. The version tested on Wednesday was the one launched from air (BrahMos-A). India's cruise missile triad is also special because of the sheer speed of the BrahMos missile. The missile is able to hit Mach 3 (three times the speed of sound) which makes it the world’s fastest cruise missile currently in operation, according to The Diplomat.

As stated in an India Strategic article, a significant increase in the speed of a cruise missile will always add to its lethal ability. This is because generally, cruise missiles do not have defensive capabilities and their chances of success are heavily linked to the stealth and speed in navigation. A fast missile like BrahMos gives the enemy little time to respond thus leading to higher chances of success.

Apart from the increasing the chances of success, the missile's top speed allows it to hit targets with a lot of kinetic energy, according to Russia Beyond. During tests, it often cut warships in half and reduced ground targets to smithereens. Being launched from a Sukhoi travelling at speeds close Mach 2 adds further momentum to the missile and the aircraft's ability to penetrate hardened air defences boosts the chances of delivering the payload.

BrahMos allows India to protect its strategic interests

Furthermore, the Sukhoi has been modified in a manner so as to allow three missiles to be fired on three different targets or in a variety of other combinations almost simultaneously, according to The New Indian Express. The precise striking capabilities of the missile were also noted by The Pioneer, which observed that the armed forces can now destroy terrorist hideouts inside enemy territory, aircraft carriers, nuclear command hubs, command and control centres and other military targets from air, land and sea. It also enables India to protect its strategic interests in the face of constant threats from Pakistan and China.

 Sukhoi-BrahMos test completes Indias cruise missile triad: A look at military and geopolitical significance

File image of the BrahMos missile. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

According to the defence ministry, "The successful maiden test firing of BrahMos Air Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM) from Su-30MKI will significantly bolster the IAF's air combat operations capability from stand-off ranges." BrahMos Aerospace CEO Sudhir Mishra told Hindustan Times that “such a capability can be a game changer for any air force in the world,” and it has the potential to shift military equilibrium in the region in India’s favour.

Writing for India Defence Review, Squadron Leader Vijainder K Thakur laid out the two big advantages BrahMos gives India. Firstly, it can be deployed and used anywhere along the land border within two-three hours of a threat arising. It could also protect India's island territories and Sea Lines of Communication. Secondly, longer range Brahmos missiles when deployed from Sukhois (with their extensive range) could counter Chinese medium range missiles positioned in Tibet to target India. IAF could then disrupt operations by the Chinese army from airbases in Tibet which would cause China to think twice before making military manoeuvres.

Nuclear option

Speculation is also rife that BrahMos could be modified into a missile with nuclear capabilities, according to The Diplomat. This would form the air component India's nuclear triad and would require the Sukhois to be retrofitted with hardened electronic circuitry which would be able to survive the electromagnetic pulses of a nuclear blast. The India Defence Review report also noted that only the air-launched version of BrahMos can be used in a nuclear role. This is because if surface-launched BrahMos is fitted with nuclear warheads, that would give launch authority to junior commanders and the nuclear warheads would be less secure.

Possible sales

Defence News India noted that BrahMos allows India to make a mark on the weapons market. After Wednesday's test the BrahMos has established itself as the fastest cruise missile in the world and there will be no dearth of buyers for it. Foreign sales are worth more than just the foreign exchange they bring in as they also add the two countries in a "long-term geopolitical embrace". BrahMos can also be used to counter China's supply of weapons to Pakistan as India can then offer BrahMos missiles to Vietnam.

Further, while the extended version of the missile (with range beyond 400 kilometres) can only be sold to certain countries owing to Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) regulations, BrahMos-A has a range of 290 kilometres which falls below the MTCR limit of 300 kilometres. BrahMos-A can thus be sold to countries like Vietnam, UAE, Chile etc which are outside the MTCR.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Nov 23, 2017 12:39:09 IST