India has kicked off the process of integrating the air-launched BrahMos-A supersonic cruise missile on 40 Sukhoi Su-30 MKI multirole air superiority fighter jets, according to local media reports.
The retrofitting of the aircraft is expected to be completed by 2020, Indian Air Force (IAF) sources revealed. “It is a very important project considering IAF’s evolving requirement to boost air power when the possibility of a two-front war cannot be ruled out,” an Indian government official said.
Up until now, only two IAF Su-30 MKI fighters have been converted to fire the new 2.5-ton supersonic air-to-surface cruise missile. Due to the size and weight of the BrahMos-A, each Su-30 MKI can only carry one missile in a transport launch canister.
The IAF test fired a BrahMos-A from a Su-30 MKI in November successfully destroying a naval target. The IAF has conducted several tests of the BrahMos-A in 2016 and 2017.
Modifications in order for the Su-30 MKI to carry and launch the BrahMos-A include reinforcing the aircraft’s undercarriage in addition to various mechanical, electrical and software upgrades.
“One of the major challenges overcome by scientists of RCI [Research Center Imarat], DRDO [Defense Research Development Organization] in the missile development was optimization of transfer alignment of the inertial sensors of the missile,” an Indian Ministry of Defense (MoD) press release noted in November. Transfer alignment is a complex process that includes initializing and calibrating a missile’s inertial navigation system by using data from the aircraft’s onboard navigation system to maximize the missile’s accuracy.
The BrahMos, a joint venture between India’s Defense Research Development Organization and Russian rocket design bureau NPO Mashinostroyeniya, “operates on a so-called fire and forget principle and can be dropped from 500 to 14,000 meters (1,640 to 46,000 feet),” I explained elsewhere. “The missile’s terminal altitude is as low as ten meters. (The ship-launched anti-ship version of the BrahMos can fly 3-4 meters above the sea to avoid detection.) The BrahMos is capable of traveling at speeds of up to Mach 3.0, making it one of the world’s fastest cruise missiles.”
Furthermore, as I explained in November:
There is also speculation that the BrahMos-A can be modified into a nuclear-capable missile. For its future role as the air component of India’s nuclear triad, the Su-30MKIs would need to be retrofitted with hardened electronic circuitry to withstand the electromagnetic pulses of a nuclear blast.
A total of 50 Su-30MKI aircraft are expected to be upgraded by the early 2020s. “In total, the IAF is expected to receive 200 air-launched BrahMos-As in the coming years, with first deliveries likely to commence in January 2018,” I reported previously.