BrahMos supersonic cruise missile tested in a strategic signal to China

The missile hit the target successfully with pin-point accuracy after performing high-level and extremely complex manoeuvres, the ministry of defence said.
A fusillade of Indian missile tests over the almost six-month-long confrontation in Ladakh between Indian and Chinese armies has been played up in the media as warnings to Beijing.

In fact, most of these tests have involved routine firing trials of weapon systems that the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) is developing and which are a long way from operational service.

However, Sunday’s successful test firing of a BrahMos supersonic cruise missile from the Navy’s stealth destroyer, INS Chennai, in the Arabian Sea was a genuine strategic signal to China that India was operationally prepared to expand the conflict to the maritime theatre.

Underscoring the battle readiness of the navy’s frontline frigates and destroyers that are equipped with the BrahMos, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced after the test: “The missile hit the target successfully with pin-point accuracy after performing high-level and extremely complex manoeuvres.”

Characterising the BrahMos missile as a “prime strike weapon”, the MoD stated the test would “ensure the warship’s invincibility by engaging naval surface targets at long ranges, thus making the destroyer another lethal platform of Indian Navy”.

The only other missile test that could be interpreted as strategic signalling was the September-23 test of a Prithvi-II nuclear capable, short-range ballistic missile. However, nuclear signalling against China would typically threaten value targets, which are towns and cities in the mainland and would, therefore, involve firing a longer-range missile such as the Agni-5.

On September 30, BrahMos Aerospace, the Indo-Russian joint venture that has developed and operationalised land, sea, underwater and air-launched versions of the missile, tested it to a range of 400 km, significantly longer than the operational version of the missile’s designated range of 290 km.

However, the army will have to make do with its four BrahMos regiments that operate missiles with a 290-km range. It will be years before the extended range version of the BrahMos is in operational service in the 5th and 6th BrahMos regiments.
Also years away from being deployable as a hypersonic cruise or ballistic missile is the eponymous Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle, which the DRDO tested off the Odisha coast on September 7.

The announced test of the Abhyas high-speed expendable aerial target (HEAT) on September 22 did not involve a weapon system that can be used against the enemy. The Abhyas is only a flying target that can be aimed at by various missiles to validate their efficacy. Two anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) tests — one announced on September 23 and another on October 1 — involved tactical, short-range missiles with ranges below 7 km. Both these ATGMs are still some way from operational service.

On October 9, for the first time, the DRDO announced the successful test firing of a New Generation Anti-Radiation Missile that homes in on the beam from enemy radars. This missile, which is launched from Sukhoi-30MKI fighter aircraft, could be a deadly weapon for destroying enemy air defence radars.

However, the MoD admitted that the test only “established indigenous capability to develop long-range air launched anti-radiation missiles”. An operationally ready missile system is still years away.

On October 5, the DRDO successfully tested a hybrid system called Supersonic Missile Assisted Release of Torpedo (SMART). This involves a missile flying with a lightweight anti-submarine torpedo towards an enemy submarine and releasing the torpedo into the water once within range.

However, the MoD admitted this launch was only a “demonstration”.

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