At a time when an escalating 40-day border standoff has led to a savage clash with multiple casualties in Indian and Chinese army units in Ladakh’s Galwan Valley, the Indian Air Force has just welcomed the BrahMos-A air-launched supersonic cruise missile into its operational arsenal. In a final milestone that clears the decks for use in operations, the missile system has just received ‘fleet release clearance’ from the Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification (CEMILAC), DRDO, the government’s gatekeeper that provides a final stamp on flying equipment before military use.
The first BrahMos-armed Sukhoi Su-30 MKI jets were inducted into the Indian Air Force’s 222 Squadron ‘Tigersharks’ in January this year at the Thanjavur air force station in Tamil Nadu.
The BrahMos is a medium-range ramjet supersonic cruise missile that can be launched from submarine, ships, aircraft, or land. It is a joint venture between the Russian Federation’s NPO Mashinostroyeniya and India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), who together have formed BrahMos Aerospace. The BrahMos-A is a modified air-launched variant of the missile with a range of 400 km which can be launched from a Sukhoi Su-30MKI as a standoff weapon. To reduce the missile’s weight to 2.55 tons, many modifications were made like using a smaller booster, adding fins for airborne stability after launch, and relocating the connector. It can be released from the height of 500 to 14,000 meters (1,640 to 46,000 ft). After release, the missile free falls for 100–150 meters, then goes into a cruise phase at 14,000 meters and finally the terminal phase at 15 meters.
Indian Air Force Sukhoi Su-30MKI is able to only carry one BrahMos missile. To carry the missile, the Su-30MKI undercarriage had to be strengthened, which also required new hard points and structural modifications to be carried underslung on a specially engineered belly pylon. The cost of adapting the BrahMos for air launch was “phenomenal,” but efforts to downsize the missile were abandoned after an attempt to reduce the size of the ramjet. On 22 November 2017, the missile was successfully test fired for the first time from a Sukhoi-30MKI against a sea-based target in the Bay of Bengal. BrahMos Corp. is also developing a smaller, lighter BrahMos NG missile.BrahMos Aerospace planned to deliver the missile to the IAF in 2015, where it is expected to arm at least three squadrons.
On 22 November 2017, the missile was successfully test fired for the first time from a Sukhoi-30MKI against a sea-based target in the Bay of Bengal. This made Indian Air Force the first in the world to have successfully tested such a type of air launched trisonic-class missile on a sea-based target. After the IAF successfully tested Brahmos from a Su-30MKI against a sea-based target, it declared on 17 December 2019 that the integration of BrahMos-A on Su-30 MKI is complete. 40 IAF SU-30MKI are to undergo modifications to be equipped to carry the missile. According to the CEO of BrahMos Aerospace, Sudhir Kumar Mishra, Brahmos-A when fired from Su-30 aircraft can reach targets thousands of kilometres away. On 20 January 2020, the IAF commissioned its first squadron of Su-30MKI fighters equipped with the PJ-10 BrahMos-A missile.