Missile with Make in India label

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Missile with Make in India label

Thursday, 30 June 2016 | Pravin Sawhney

Missile with Make in India label

An India-Russia venture, the new BRAHMOS missile is a unique illustration of joint design, joint development and joint production. Russia built the propulsion system and seeker while India worked on the guidance, air frame and on-board electronic modules

The successful test-flight of the BRAHMOS air version on June 25 at the Hindustan Aeronautics limited (HAl), Nashik airfield had a perfect take-off and smooth landing. Sudhir Mishra, Chief Controller (BrahMos), Defence Research and Development Organisation and Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director BrahMos Aerospace, a reticent person given to downplaying achievements confirmed to me that notwithstanding his anxiety, the two test crews, Wing Commanders Prashant Nair and MS Raju flew the Su-30MKI armed with BRAHMOS with élan — if they were uneasy, it did not show. Mishra shared with me the video of the 55 minutes flight which seemed a routine affair. Watching from the gallery stand, Mishra along with Chairman of Hindustan Aeronautics limited T Suvarna Raju and senior DRDO and Government officials, were in constant touch with the pilots through the live telemetry system to monitor the aerodynamically well-defined flight.

The reshaping and redesigning of the originally anti-ship BRAHMOS supersonic missile to an air-to-ground missile was not an easy affair, and the road ahead would be challenging too. The two partners of the BrahMos Aerospace joint venture — India’s DRDO with a share of 50.5 per cent and Russia’s NPO Mashinostroyeniya with 49.5 per cent stake — could not have visualised the spectacular success of having the missile in all three versions, for the Indian Navy, Army and now the Air Force. BrahMos is the perfect example of Make in India campaign conceptualised by the Modi Government. Instead of license production, BrahMos is the unique illustration of joint design, joint development and joint production, with up to 55 per cent work being done in India. In terms of work-share, Russia is responsible for the propulsion system (engine) and seeker, while the guidance, air frame and on-board electronic modules are DRDO’s responsibility.

What sets the BRAHMOS air version apart is that the launcher which houses the missile has been manufactured completely by BrahMos Aerospace in Thiruvananthapuram. The airborne launcher, perhaps the heaviest in the world with 410kg weight and six meters length, has been an engineering (electrically, mechanically and digitally) challenge. While Sukhoi Design Bureau provided initial data, BrahMos’ in-house design bureau has accomplished this intricate task.

This is not all. The modifications on the BRAHMOS air version and integrating with the launcher, and the two in turn being co-opted with the Su-30MKI was carried at HAl Nashik. BrahMos Aerospace and HAl did this in close cooperation with the Centre for Military Airworthiness & Certification, National Aerospace laboratories and various DRDO labs to name a few. The test-flight to validate this complex system was done in June in Nashik. The original BRAHMOS weighing 2.9 tonne has been reduced in length to 8.55m and weight to 2.5 ton by reducing the booster without compromise on the missile performance. With NPOM providing assistance, the whole exercise involved three defined steps.

The first was Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) done with high speed super-computers. The CFD is a specialised branch of fluid mechanics which uses numerical analysis and algorithms for study of air flow pattern and influence on aircraft in the presence of integrated missile. This helps to analyse aircraft performance armed with missile in various profiles and other parameters. It also enables to define flight envelope of the aircraft while carrying BRAHMOS-AV (air version) missile. The CFD analysis was done by a private Indian company named ZEUS Numerix in collaboration with Professor GR Shevare of IIT Mumbai.

The second step involved wind tunnel tests done at NAl, Bengaluru and in Russia to ascertain the behaviour of the aircraft in terms of its mechanical, electrical and aerodynamics systems armed with missile and the separation of the missile from the aircraft. The third was the actual test flight done on June 25 which involved an instrumented BRAHMOS missile without fuel. While ensuring that the air version missile had the same weight and weight distribution as the actual one, the instrumented missile has nearly 400 sensors onboard to check various technical and aerodynamic parameters.

Once the evaluation of the sensors is done, BrahMos plans to carry out the drop test to ascertain that the instrumented missile separates safely, in July-August. He told me that, “We would take about 30 to 40 days to evaluate data obtained from sensors on the instrumented missile. We will also do about five to six more flights and drop-tests with dummy or instrumented missiles to collect data to create software for all mission profiles of Su-30MKI and to ensure safe release in the launch envelope.”

The “final step would be a test with the actual BRAHMOS air version missile in October-November this year,” he told me. Since the BRAHMOS is a proven missile, just one actual test would be sufficient to induct the weapon system into operational service. Once done, the Indian Air Force would acquire an exceptional offensive capability — given the enormous turn radius of Su-30MKI, its refuelling capability, and BRAHMOS’ 290km stand-off range — the pilot would be able to hit targets more than 5,000 km into enemy territory.

What nextIJ While providing consultancy on the BRAHMOS air version, the NPOM has proposed to jointly develop compact engines with better energy propellant without compromising on the 290km range. The new BRAHMOS-NG (Next Generation) missile would have a lighter weight with smaller diameter, a higher speed of 3.3 Mach and better packaging and routing of pipes with computer-aided design and latest electronics. Such missile would have 1.4 ton weight for the air force version and 1.6 ton for the navy version. Up to five BRAHMOS could be carried by Su-30MKI designed to carry nine ton ordnance (two each on the wings and one on the belly), and two missiles by the MiG-29K.

The seeker of the new BRAHMOS-NG could have sufficient redundancies to include anti-radiation, radio frequency and imaging infra-red capabilities. For accuracy, the guidance in addition to the present G3 combination (US’ GPS, India’s Gagan and Russia’s Glonass system) could also come from the indigenous Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System.

Perhaps the BRAHMOS-NG staff requirements will have to wait for the air force to first induct the present BRAHMOS air version successfully. While this appears to be the natural course of action, three things should be kept in mind. One, the Russian proposal which has been made now; two, the present BRAHMOS air version is a contemporary technology that requires to be upgraded; and most importantly, export chances of the missile would brighten if work was to commence on the BRAHMOS-NG.

There is a misplaced perception that BRAHMOS exports would hasten after India joined the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) club, which interestingly happened around the same time — the day BRAHMOS air version was successfully flown. The MTCR, formed in 1987, was a direct consequence of India’s first Prithvi ballistic test in 1984. Meant to curb exports of ballistic missiles with more than 300km range and 500kg payload, the MTCR in 1992 and 2004 expanded its ambit to include cruise missiles, technologies that assist in delivery systems for nuclear weapons, long range armed and unarmed drones and so on. Without any international legal binding and enforcement capabilities, the MTCR club works on consensus to help curb proliferation of delivery systems.

Joining this club has one advantage and a serious shortcoming. Those joining the MTCR are seen to be responsible nations fit enough to do trade in delivery systems technologies amongst member nations. It would, however, be wrong to assume that membership of MTCR would automatically open membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The shortcoming of joining the MTCR is that members are expected to be transparent about their exporting missiles and systems. Specific to BRAHMOS, no one seriously believes that its range is limited to 290km, below MTCR limits. It is another matter that it would be nearly impossible to unlock millions of software codes and hardware locks to exploit its actual range. Moreover, exports are strictly a sovereign decision. What India really needs is the political will and well-oiled organisation to start exports of the missiles which has a lucrative market.

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