Months of speculation about the possible development of an air-launched version of the Indo-Russian BrahMos supersonic cruise missile finally came to a head, with India and Russia announcing they had signed a co-development deal, with plans for a test-fire within six months.
The deal was made public a day before Russian President Vladimir Putin was scheduled to arrive in New Delhi to attend a one-day summit on Monday, where he held talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Prior to his departure, Putin pledged to strengthen defense ties with India. In an op-ed published in The Hindu, Putin emphasized that joint development of advanced weapons, rather than the traditional purchase by India of Russian technology, would be “key to future relations.”
India is the world’s largest arms importer, with Russian technology accounting for between 60 and 70 percent of total acquisitions. New Delhi intends to spend upwards of U.S.$100 billion over the next decade to upgrade its predominantly Soviet-era military.
Putin’s visit — his first since he returned to the presidency in May — will seek to dispel rumors that Russian-Indian ties are strained following Moscow’s decision to delay Putin’s visit that was initially scheduled for the end of October. Among other things, Russia has since reaffirmed its intention to share advanced defense technology with India and to jointly develop a fifth-generation Sukhoi fighter aircraft as part of an U.S.$11 billion R&D program.
During the summit, the two sides also signed defense deals totaling U..S$2.9 billion, including a U.S.$1.6 billion contract for 42 Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighters, as well as $1.3 billion for 71 Mi-17 V5 medium-lift helicopters (adding to the 80 already purchased in a previous deal), 970 aircraft engines, and tank missiles.
Ahead of Putin’s visit on Monday, the two sides also signed a deal to develop and install 216 air-launched variants of the two-stage BrahMos (the name comes from the merger of two major rivers, Brahmaputra in India and Moskva in Russia) on 45 aircraft. Installation of the BrahMos on the Su-30s will require some fuselage work.
According to the Indian Defense Ministry, the agreement was signed in New Delhi between BrahMos Aerospace, Rosoboronexport — Russia’s state intermediary agency for the export and import of military and dual-purpose products — and the Sukhoi Design Bureau. The concept of integrating BrahMos missiles on Su-30MKIs goes back to at least 2010, when it was announced that between 40 and 100 aircraft were to be outfitted with the supersonic cruise missile as part of the “Super 30” upgrade program.
The Indian Cabinet Committee on Security recently cleared a proposal by the Indian Air Force (IAF) to acquire BrahMos missiles for their integration with their Su-30MKIs. A first test of the air-launched version is to be held by the middle of 2013, with two IAF Su-30MKIs, modified by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, to be outfitted with BrahMos launchers. According to reports, the air-launched version of the BrahMos will integrate geo-location data from the Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS), which currently provides primary navigation for Russia’s Kh-555 and the Raduga Kh-101 long-range air-launched cruise missiles. It was first reported in 2010 that the BrahMos would be outfitted with GLONASS receivers.
Once integrated, the air-launched BrahMos will give the IAF a long-range strike capability and the means to launch air attacks beyond the envelope of Pakistan’s relatively primitive air defense systems. With a range of approximately 290 km, the “fire-and-forget” missile carries a 300 kg (660 pounds) conventional warhead and can reach a speed of Mach 2.8 at levels as low as 30 feet.
With the BrahMos already inducted in the Indian Army and Navy, its integration into the IAF will close the supersonic cruise missile triad for the Indian armed forces. A submarine-launched version is also in development.