Boosting India's defence
The BrahMos Missile integration with Su-30 enhances India's defence readiness.
It was a hot summer forenoon of May 1, 2013, when I, as Chairman, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited had a strategic discussion with the CEO of Brahmos Aerospace, at his office at Kirby place, New Delhi. During the discussions, he enquired, whether HAL had the technical capability for allowing Brahmos integration on Su-30. He also said that the OEM-Russian Company has offered to do it at a cost of 200 million USD (Rs 1300 crore approx). Moreover, he was unsure whether even after spending so much money, any technology learning would accrue benefit to India? Air Marshal Arup Raha, Vice Chief of IAF (who later took on as IAF chief in December 2013) and an officer whom I highly admired, in another meeting confirmed that this integration will be a game changer for IAF, besides providing technological confidence and making an opportunity in India, as at a later stage a total of forty Su-30 would need such modifications.
Our designers at the Nasik facility of HAL went into detailing the issues and challenges involved, and a few months later, we confirmed to Brahmos Aerospace that HAL & IAF both are confident to do it, however, there was another challenge – Dr Pillai, CEO Brahmos, indicated that he has a budget availability of only Rs 80 crore for this project (against OEM's demand of Rs 1300 crore) and requested HAL to complete this task within the Rs 80 crore budget. Considering the financial limitation of Brahmos, HAL Board under my leadership on November 26, 2013, took a historic decision that even if HAL does not make a profit on this task, it will be a good project, undertaken in the interest of the nation that will showcase the technical capabilities of HAL.
It was for the first time in the history of HAL that a decision was taken to absorb the design and development costs, waive off the profit element and contingency costs and finalise a technology project for a payment of only Rs 80 crore. This decision reflects that when positive synergy is developed between IAF and the industry, the cost element becomes secondary and it is the ideals of national pride, competence and technologies that come to the fore.
I am so happy that four years later now on November 22, 2017, a Su-30 combat aircraft of the Indian Air Force took off from Kalaikunda base carrying a 2.5-ton BrahMos Missile with the task of test firing it over a target in the high sea of the Bay of Bengal. It was a copybook style successful trial in the first ever efforts, wherein the BrahMos missile struck a sea-based target, located 260 km away with precision and perfection.
We celebrate this success in two ways. First, the integration of the BrahMos Air Launch Cruise Missile (ALCM) greatly enhances IAF's ability to strike heavily defended targets deep into the enemy territory, up to the range of 2100 km (3900 km with refueller). Even if BrahMos is fired from Su-30 while remaining within Indian borders, a strike range of 290 km is available for an attack into enemy territory. This means that there will be a paradigm shift in the way that tomorrow's confrontations with the hostile countries are held. In active wars, the total priority is to first destroy the strategic enemy locations and defence infrastructure like nuclear weapon batteries etc. BrahMos will provide India with these crucial capabilities.
Second, this test firing is an active demonstration of how the indigenous technical capabilities have been developed within the country. Presently, more than 100 Indian companies involving 20000 specialists, engineers and technicians work on BrahMos manufacturing and technical modifications, in India. In the present case, the modification of Su-30 for BrahMos integration involved safe stores separation analysis consisting of wind tunnel and CFD analysis. Watertight NMG of the aircraft had to be generated from 2D drawings. The structural modifications have to be within the aircraft centre of gravity (CG) envelope and in such a way that it does not alter the vibration characteristics. Carriage and release actuation along with electrical and avionics integration is another challenge. FTI (Flight Test Instrumentation) for the operations along with missile system software modifications also need to be undertaken. All of this was done by the consortium of the Indian industry led by HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.) as a lead integrator.
The economic prosperity and technology prowess of a country depends on how the scientific and technological communities of that country collaborate on the projects of strategic importance. For this Su-30–Brahmos integration, apart from IAF, HAL and BrahMos Aerospace Limited, many other agencies like RCMA, DGAQA, CEMILAC, NAL, AST, SDI, MSQAA, NEUCON, and Zeus Numerix worked together committed towards the timely completion of this project.
The Su-30 – Brahmos integration is just a beginning. The technology and know-how developed on this project should now be leveraged in the development of upgraded Su-30 (SUPER Su-30) with stronger structures, better avionics and radars, and more effective combat capabilities. The combat capabilities need to be developed in a way that an impregnable combat cover of at least 1500 km depth is created around all Indian borders – at land as well on high seas.
With this trial now, the BrahMos missile has achieved the challenges of integration into all the three versions of the Navy, Land and Air attacks. The Indian army already has three regiments of BrahMos and is now working on the missile's block III version, which has a steep dive, trajectory manoeuvre, and top-attack capabilities. The Navy has also deployed it on ten of its frontline warships. Now, the IAF plans to integrate a total of forty Su-30s with BrahMos launch capabilities. I understand that the BrahMos Aerospace will now be working on the hypersonic version (five-seven Mach) with an extended range of 600 km.
We wish BrahMos Aerospace for all the success in their future ventures and also compliment all the participating technology agencies for this exemplary technological achievement. We as Indians are indeed proud of you.
(The author is President, Aeronautical Society of India. The views expressed are strictly personal.)