India Successfully Test Fires “Fastest Cruise Missile” From Aircraft

Multi-Mission BrahMos Cruise Missile Claimed to be Fastest in the World.

The Indian Air Force conducted the first-ever successful air launch of the BrahMos cruise missile from a Sukhoi Su-30 MKI multirole aircraft on Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017. According to an official statement from the Indian Air Force (IAF), “The IAF is the first air force in the world to have successfully fired an air-launched Mach 2.8 surface attack missile of this category.” The missile is reported to have been fired at test target in the Bay of Bengal.

The BrahMos is a large, 28-foot long (8.4 meter), 5,500-pound (2,500 kilogram), two-stage solid fuel and ramjet powered cruise missile. The SU-30MKI that launched the BrahMos had modifications to landing gear, hard points and airframe to support the extra weight of the missile. One report suggests that up to 50 SU-30MKIs will be modified or built to carry one of the 200 air-launched BrahMos in the next years.

The air-launched variant of the BrahMos on display at MAKS 2016 outside Moscow. (Photo: Allocer)

According to a quote from Indian defense officials in a story published Wednesday, Nov. 22, by the India Times, “The integration on the aircraft was very complex involving mechanical, electrical and software modifications on the aircraft. The IAF was involved in the activity from its inception.”

The BrahMos cruise missile is a joint development of Russia and India. In various versions the large, fast cruise missile can be launched from surface ships, submarines and now from combat aircraft. Russia is responsible for a reported 65% of the missile’s components, with India providing the majority of the remaining missile components. The design of the BrahMos is based on the Russian P-800 Oniks sea-skimming cruise missile.

Performance of the BrahMos includes a quoted air-launched range of 250 miles (400 kilometers) and a warhead weighing 660-pounds (300-kilograms). This combination of range and payload makes the weapon a significant threat to large surface ships such as aircraft carriers and fortified land targets. The fast speed of the missile may mean anti-missile systems, especially shipboard ones, may have a difficult time intercepting the BrahMos. The BrahMos is also reported to be “nuclear capable”.

The BrahMos missile and Wednesday’s air-launch demonstration send a clear message to other regional powers (such as Pakistan) as well as countries that already have and are developing aircraft carrier capability, most notably China, following the introduction of a Chinese aircraft carrier program in 2011 and subsequent commissioning of their first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning (CV-16) Type 001 aircraft carrier, in 2012.

Relations between India and China, the two most populous countries on earth with the two fastest growing economies, are generally constructive but have been strained over a regional dispute in Bhutan, a country between China and India in the Himalayas. The dispute does not threaten the two countries strategic relationship given their co-dependence on trade.

India does have a massive coastline to its south that lies above major strategic sea lanes for the transport of nearly every commercial and military commodity moved by sea. It is also a major route for oil tankers. Because of the strategic importance of the Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal, the BrahMos cruise missile is an important asset in the Indian arsenal and especially relevant in its new air-launched variant.