Air-launched Brahmos — Southeast Asian counter to China’s bullying

The air-launched Brahmos supersonic cruise missile was recently flight tested for the first time off a Su-30 MKI platform at the Nasik air base. A short video of the Brahmos-armed Su-30 MKI taxing for take off on https://twitter.com/livefist/status/746585004784816129. A still better video of the event at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v4iZ-M2Jujg

With India’s formal entry into the Missile Technology Control Regime, the last excuse for delaying the immediate transfer/sale of quantities of this missile to Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia who have strongly expressed an interest in having this weapon in their arsenals, is now gone. Without further ado or loss of time, defence minister Manohar Parrikar should order transactions for the Brahmos to get underway right away. Between the land-based (in coastal batteries) and the air-launched versions of this missile in the Vietnamese, Indonesian, Philippine and Malayasian land and air orders of battle, the Chinese armed forces can be stopped dead in their tracks. Vietnam Air Force has Su-30MKs in its fleet whose flight control computers can be readily configured — as has been done with the IAF Su-30MKIs — to fire the Brahmos.

Perhaps, Moscow held off permission for dealing the Brahmos to our friends in Southeast Asia until recently because Russia was awaiting India’s entry into MTCR and the removal of all legal hurdles. With the barriers now removed, Parrikar’s MOD better get going. There’s no time to be lost because an exasperated Vietnam has already complained to New Delhi about its tardiness regarding the supersonic missile sale, with Hanoi actually giving an ultimatum of end-2016 by which time it expects a contract to be signed and for the training and other support aspects of the Brahmos program to be initiated.

If, as I have advocated, a Kolkatta-class destroyer or, at the very least, an indigenous (upgraded Shivalik class — Project 17A) frigate is offered Hanoi, at cost price if not gratis, to Vietnam, of course, but also to the Philippine, Indonesian and Malaysian navies, the returns on such a venturesome policy will go through the roof. At a minimum, the powerful Chinese South Sea Fleet and, even more, the Indian Ocean-specific “Fourth Fleet” (joining the North Sea, East Sea and South Sea Fleets in China’s naval rollcall) based in the Sanya base on Hainan Island will be well and truly grounded. In fact, it will be risky for any naval armada to negotiate the narrows with the Brahmos trident — coastal batteries, and the very mobile air-launched, and ship-fired, leave alone for a largely untested PLA Navy. For China then to offer provocation to or bully any of the smaller disputants in the South China Sea will mean Beijing risking humiliation — the sinking of, say, a Guangzhu-class guided missile destroyer with a single Brahmos broadside hit launched from any one of a number of platforms in the region.

Incidentally, the flotilla embarked for the Malabar naval exercise off Okinawa is led by INS Satpura, a Shivalik-class frigate that littoral states will have a chance to examine up close (when the flotilla exercises with the various navies in the area during its return passage).

In the aftermath of the NSG fiasco in Seoul, this is the right sort of actions as payback and to equilibrate the strategic situation in China’s neighbourhood, raise the potential costs to Beijing, and make India’s intentions of limiting China to short of the South China Sea, clear. And this we should do quietly, without the usual media hullaballoo. But, alas, it is precisely the political vision, will, and gumption driving such actions that are absent in Modi’s government which, like its predecessor regimes is looking for India to do little itself but increasingly relying on Washington to take on China.

Consider also that just 50 Su-30MKIs (out of Car Nicobar base or staging out of, say, INS Baaz air strip with extended runway) in Campbell Bay, can stop any aircraft carrier battle group from any country venturing into the Indian Ocean, or at any other oceanic choke point to the east and the west.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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17 Responses to Air-launched Brahmos — Southeast Asian counter to China’s bullying

  1. andy says:

    Couldn’t agree more with you,this is the way forward as far as China is concerned.

  2. SANKET says:

    Peace talks with China useless. War is inevitable. China Pak Nexus is a threat to the survival of this great civilization that is India. To wish otherwise is to accept death. Time for Tora Tora Tora…

    • Sir, as a Keralite, Malayalee my Hindi is not at par. Also I can use only American English. So I have to read all Hindu Holy Books In English.

      Sukhadukhe same kruthwa
      Labhalabhou Jayajayou-
      Thatho yuddhaya yujiswa

      I was told the number of the mounted troops. It was 200,000,000.” – Apocalypse.- Bible
      In Dragon Fire China finish off India.
      But as King Arjunan launched Pasupathasthram to block Lord Krishnan’s Sudarsana Chakram, to destroy Dragon Fire,
      I put forward deadly Shanghai cocktail.
      China pour arsenal into Pakistan. India sunk Chinese supply to Pakistan. Pakistan and China jointly attack India. They invade Kashmir, Northeast, Gujarat and Rajasthan. India retaliate, occupy Pakistan, Tibet and Aksai Chin. Tempo increase. We warn dubious Asian capitals that backing china will invite Indian missiles of the third variety.
      Flareup, which already crossed the nuclear threshold, escalate into thermonuclear blowup. While western powers advise India restraint, China nuke Delhi. We wipe out Beijing with six hydrogen bomb strikes. China take out Bombay. We write the obituary of Shanghai.
      China is finished. Tianenmenon butchers don’t give a damn about people. But we will evacuate cities. Then Majestic Lion advise Giant Panda. “Comrade, let us call it a day. None of this was necessary. We regret the loss of life. But if you touch any more Indian city, we will take care of Hong Kong. So please sign the truce.”

  3. “I was told the number of the mounted troops. It was 200,000,000.” – Apocalypse.- Bible
    In Dragon Fire China finish off India.
    But as King Arjunan launched Pasupathasthram to block Lord Krishnan’s Sudarsana Chakram, to destroy Dragon Fire,
    I put forward deadly Shanghai cocktail.
    China pour arsenal into Pakistan. India sunk Chinese supply to Pakistan. Pakistan and China jointly attack India. They invade Kashmir, Northeast, Gujarat and Rajasthan. India retaliate, occupy Pakistan, Tibet and Aksai Chin. Tempo increase. We warn dubious Asian capitals that backing china will invite Indian missiles of the third variety.
    Flareup, which already crossed the nuclear threshold, escalate into thermonuclear blowup. While western powers advise India restraint, China nuke Delhi. We wipe out Beijing with six hydrogen bomb strikes. China take out Bombay. We write the obituary of Shanghai.
    China is finished. Tianenmenon butchers don’t give a damn about people. But we will evacuate cities. Then Majestic Lion advise Giant Panda. “Comrade, let us call it a day. None of this was necessary. We regret the loss of life. But if you touch any more Indian city, we will take care of Hong Kong. So please sign the truce.”
    “Sukhadukhe same kruthwa
    Labhalabhou Jayajayou-
    Thatho yuddhaya yujiswa

  4. Mahendra Singh says:

    It seems the missile has only been test flown mounted under the belly of Su 30. It hasn’t been launched from a Su 30 yet.

  5. Where are Indian hawks. I await emergence of Indian versions of Alexander Lebed and
    Vladimir Zhirinovsky. When in opposition BJP called Manmohan Singh soft. See Vladimir Putin took on USA, NATO, EU and won. Might is right. In 1969 Soviets show Chinese the real power of barrel of gun.

    • In 1953 Mao defeated Eisenhower and Truman. In 1962 Nehru. In 1969 Brezhnev said he will wipe out China and Mao. China saw real power and wagged their tail.Mighty Dragon said USSR is a super power. But what about 1979 defeat from exhausted little Vietnam?

  6. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    @BK Re. “Consider also that just 50 Su-30MKIs (out of Car Nicobar base or staging out of, say, INS Baaz”

    I was presuming the 40 or 42 Su-30MKIs that were to be upgraded (presumably for SFC) would be the ones that will carry the Brahmos.

    If my presumption is correct then will the SFC Sukhois also target ships?

    SFC Sukhois will be primarily for tactical nukes that much I am confident on. So it would not be out of the ordinary that they are able to target ships also. Even though sometime back I had read that the air launched anti-ship Brahmos is a future article.

    The development path you cite would indeed be the first step towards re-writing the methods of the IAF as well as the Indian Navy. Wish Indian Navy pays some attention to getting Tu-160 like capabilities mated to air-launched anti-ship brahmos.

    • &^%$#@! says:

      It does presently appear that the BrahMos armed Su-30 MKI’s will serve a dual purpose of being both part of the SFC, and being involved in the anti-shipping (read CBG) role.

  7. Van says:

    Sir, what is your opinion about selling Brahmos to Taiwan? Is that too radical an idea? How might China react to that?

    As usual, you have skipped Taiwan while listing countries that face trouble from China.

    Thanks!

    • Van@ — Reason Taiwan is usually “skipped” by me in my analysis is because tech-wise it is in no way deficient, and has adequate deterrent in its Ching Feng1000 km range ballistic missile specifically meant for Shanghai and proximal areas. Also in its arsenal are two cruise missiles — the (US Harpoon class) 600-1000 km Hsiung Feng, and the 2000 km Yunfeng (in the final stages of development). Taipei may appreciate other help from India, but doesn’t need any mil assistance of the Brahmos-Agni kind.

      • Van says:

        Sir,

        Thanks for the reply.

        If Taiwan does not need missile-related assistance from India, can we help them somehow in their extremely delayed submarine modernization plan? It seems like no one wants to sell them any conventional subs, and the US no longer operates conventional subs anymore.

        Our experience in assembling the Scorpene-class, overhauling the Kilo-class and manufacturing the Arihant-class, along with training/exercises, might perhaps be of some interest to them?

        Why does our navy or coast guard never show up at Taiwan’s naval bases for re-fueling or simple passage exercises? Why don’t we do joint anti-submarine warfare exercises with them? Will the Chinese response to that be so vengeful that we cannot even contemplate such actions?

  8. Van@ — In fact, in my previous response I should have mentioned that I have advocated and analyzed at considerable length the need for close and intimate relations with Taiwan as leverage against China in previous posts and in all my books, especially the most recent one ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’ (with an entire section on India-Taiwan military cooperation). Collaboration with Taipei in submarine construction is something, I confess, I haven’t looked at. But it is obviously something India should pursue. The problem is GOI is hesitant about about publicizing the fairly close relations India has with Taiwan in the security sphere. These are, however, revealed in my book, particularly cooperation in the cyber warfare realm.

    • Van says:

      Sir,

      Thanks again for your reply. Your book ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’ is top most on my summer reading list.

    • &^%$#@! says:

      Anybody understanding the Chinese (including Taiwanese) psyche will realize that Taiwan will be extremely cautious in seeking/accepting Indian assistance that is even remotely in the defense sphere, in its quarrel with the PRC. The US and the West are a different matter, since the US has been involved in this quarrel right from its inception.

  9. andy says:

    India has signalled its intent to strike enemy targets with devastating force early on in a confliict.

    Individually, the Su-30 and Brahmos are powerful weapons. But when the world’s most capable fourth generation fighter is armed with a uniquely destructive cruise missile, together they are a dramatic force multiplier.

    The BrahMos’ maximum speed of 3700 km per hour speed – literally faster than a bullet – means it hits the target with a huge amount of kinetic energy. In tests, the BrahMos has often cut warships in half and reduced ground targets to smithereens. The Sukhoi’s blistering speed will add extra launch momentum to the missile, plus the aircraft’s ability to penetrate hardened air defences means there is a greater chance for the pilot to deliver the missile on to its designated targets.

    Considering that India’s primary enemy is Pakistan and that country’s chief backer is China, against which India has fought two conflicts – losing in 1962 and winning in 1967 – these two countries are the obvious targets.

    Against Pakistan, the targets are obvious. A two-squadron attack using most of the strategic forces commands 42 Su 30 mki can. within minutes utterly cripple the country’s command and control centres; nuclear power plants, including the Kahuta ‘Death Star’ where the majority of the “Islamic” bombs are manufactured; the Sargodha Central Ammunition Depot west of Lahore where these warheads are stored; ballistic missile bases in Gujranwala, Okara, Multan, Jhang and Dera Nawab Shah; Pakistani Army Corp headquarters in Rawalpindi; the Karachi Port, Pakistani’s only major harbour and its Naval HQ; and ordinance factories that manufacture tanks and fighter aircraft.

    The supersonic Brahmos armed with a conventional warhead can theoretically penetrate hardened command, control and communication centres. However, if required the missile’s conventional warhead can be replaced with miniaturised nukes. A pre-emptive nuclear strike will therefore ensure that Pakistan’s offensive capability is effectively neutralised and it is never again a threat to India.

    Against China, the Sukhoi-Brahmos one-two punch seems counter-intuitive as Chinese targets are located deep inland or on the coast. However, the Su-30MKI has a maximum range of 3000 km (extendable to 8000 km with in-flight refuelling). Now add the Brahmos’s 300 km reach and India can hit targets 3300 km inside China.

    Having a dedicated aircraft for the nuclear attack role offers India’s war planners strategic flexibility and increases the odds of success. Because ballistic missiles are used only as a weapon of last resort, they cannot really be deployed at will. Once released, they cannot be recalled and if shot down are not easily replaced.

    Fighter aircraft, on the other hand, can perform repeated sorties and be directed to bomb targets as they move. For instance, if Pakistan moves it warheads out of Sargodha depot, which is presumably under constant watch by Indian satellites, the Sukhois can be vectored against a column of Pakistani trucks transporting their nuclear cargo.

    The SFC’s mini air force of 42 Sukhois can also launch their missiles against Pakistani targets from within Indian airspace or while flying over international waters, thereby complicating the enemy’s defences. It is a lot easier for India to destroy Pakistani war fighting capability because not only is Pakistan relatively smaller but it has also concentrated its defences in one province, Punjab.

    “Work is also underway 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,” says Aviation Week.

    The Brahmos + Sukhoi combination is bad news for India’s enemies.

  10. quickboy says:

    Well it is all simple, India needs to push through whenever it can sell weapons,Of course the Russians will not object, (They do get a share), Now in todays world the ones who sell weapons are always superpower, (Because economics count). Secondly arming those who actually have a problem with China does not in any way affect Indo-China relations, Chinese do arm Pak, So they should not be worried if India sells anything to say, Vietnam or anyone else, Even if Taiwan asks for weapons we should sell them, Just tell China we are getting money. simple. Taiwan or whatever is their problem not ours, That is the way to go. I would also suggest arming Anyone including Sri Lanka, Myanmar or whoever asks for arms. Unless we do it , we will prove we are real Nehruvians, The PM who stopped using a better air force in `1962 ans if history is to be believed, asked for most of IAF to remain around Delhi, during the Goa issue, both ways he was simply afraid Delhi will be bombed, Which is utter Non-sense, since any enemy would know bombing Delhi will kill only politicians whom India has no problem replacing anyway. We can get enough leaders in large quantities on short notice, At least let us realise the strategic interest is to keep China busy in south in return for the favour they are doing to us in the north-west.

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