The Indo-Russian BrahMos supersonic cruise missile joint venture will expand this year into perhaps its toughest domain, with the company announcing it is nearly ready to conduct the first test of the BrahMos-A, an air-launched version of the weapon.

In the works for at least eight years, the BrahMos-A has been integrated onto a specially constructed reinforced belly hardpoint of a modified Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.-built Sukhoi Su-30 MKI, says BrahMos CEO A. Sivathanu Pillai. Captive trials with a full mock-up missile will be conducted in the next two months, with a first test-firing off the east coast of India a year from now in early 2014.

“The missile integration is nearly complete to the satisfaction of all concerned, including the Indian air force (IAF). Preliminary ground tests will begin shortly. We will build confidence before beginning flight tests and then a test-firing,” Pillai said in Bengaluru during the recent Aero India show.

The BrahMos-A is a modified version of the baseline land- or ship-launched version, sporting a smaller booster and fins for airborne stability after launch. The missile also has been modified to relocate its umbilical connector. The missile is designed for a release height from a Su-30MKI of anywhere between 500 and 14,000 meters. After a free fall of 100-150 meters, the BrahMos-A has a cruise phase at 14,000 meters and terminal phase at 15 meters.

At this time, the BrahMos-A’s weight of 2.55 tons means it will be tested and deployed only on the Su-30MKI. The company’s earlier plans to make the weapon available for the Indian navy’s Ilyushin Il-38 maritime patrol and anti-submarine aircraft fell through after ground clearance constraints cropped up. Similar plans to deploy it on the navy’s Tupolev Tu-142 long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft were also shelved after the Navy said it wasn’t worth the cost of modification, given that the fleet didn’t have much time left in service.

An officer with the IAF’s Pune-based Su-30MKI squadron said, “Heavy modifications have been necessary for such a heavy missile, and initially it didn’t seem to make sense to deploy a single missile. But in simulations, the weapon holds promise. Our test crews look forward to firing the missile and seeing how it does. It’s a potent stand-off weapon. We’ve provided BrahMos with several inputs over the years about how the missile needs to perform.”

The BrahMos JV has had trouble obtaining engineering help from the Sukhoi Design Bureau to modify the Su-30MKI airframe to deploy the BrahMos. Sources say it was the bureau’s reluctance that forced BrahMos and HAL to conduct the modification virtually by themselves, though Sukhoi may have assisted sometime in 2011. BrahMos intends to hand over the weapon to the IAF in 2015, after which it is expected to be deployed in at least three squadrons.

Work is also under way on a modified lighter and smaller-diameter version of the BrahMos for deployment on the Indian navy’s MiG-29K and, potentially, the Dassault Rafale, as part of the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft acquisition, which is still under negotiation.

Significantly, the company has also revealed that it will conduct the first test of its underwater launched variant “very shortly,” possibly before the end of March. Once proven, the weapon, designated BrahMos-S, will arm Indian attack submarines, including potentially the Project 75I license-build program that is expected to begin soon with the release of a request for proposals. The BrahMos-S test will come close on the heels of India’s secretive K-15 subsurface-launched missile test in January in the Bay of Bengal. The 750-km range K-15, designated Project B-05 by the Advanced Naval Systems Directorate, will be deployed on the country’s under-test Arihant nuclear ballistic missile submarine.

The joint venture also for the first time showcased its BrahMos-2 hypersonic weapon concept at the recently concluded Aero India show, which is held every two years at the IAF’s Yelahanka station outside Bengaluru. The scramjet-powered weapon is intended for a debut test in 2016-17. Preliminary research and development on the weapon has begun.

The BrahMos land version currently arms three army regiments, and was recently tested in a Block III configuration that showcases a steep-dive capability, allowing the missile to be used in high altitude terrain.

Despite its successful induction into the Indian armed forces, the BrahMos has yet to be either ordered by Russia or exported to friendly countries, as New Delhi and Moscow had agreed. Sources indicate that countries in Latin America and Southeast Asia have expressed interest in the land and ship-launched versions of the weapon, and are likely to be given demonstrations this year.

BrahMos photo: PIB