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Countering the BrahMos Threat (Quwa Premium Sample)
February 20, 2020

Countering the BrahMos Threat (Quwa Premium Sample)

Introduction

Jointly developed, marketed and produced by Russia and India, the BrahMos is a supersonic anti-ship cruising missile (ASCM). Weighing 2,500 kg and with an engagement range of 450 km, the Brahmos is one of India’s mainstay stand-off range weapons. India can deploy the BrahMos from surface warships and land, aircraft and submarines, making this ASCM a versatile asset – and for Pakistan, a credible threat.

Simply put, the BrahMos confers India the ability to (1) engage time-sensitive targets (TST) – e.g. moving ships or vehicles – by leveraging a near Mach 3 cruising speed (i.e. around 3,700 km/h, a standard subsonic ASCM a one-third this speed or less) and (2) heavily pressure surface ship and land-based point air defence systems and require the defending side to expand its missile-counter umbrella.

Both factors are relevant to Pakistan: the dissemination of the BrahMos within each of India’s service arms (i.e. Army, Air Force and Navy) will put Pakistan’s surface-based delivery platforms (e.g. fast attack crafts and land-based missile launchers) and other high-value targets – e.g. infrastructure – under threat.

There is also the commercial advantage of possessing a scarcely available product in a supersonic ASCM, especially one capable of sustaining that flight speed for the duration of its flight. While not relevant to Pakistan from a threat-perception aspect, the proliferation of the BrahMos – and its analogous counterparts – will provide potent anti-access and area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities to countries whom the Indians and Russians are willing to sell, e.g. Southeast Asian, Middle East and African militaries

However, for Pakistan the relevant issue is that the BrahMos requires each of Pakistan’s service arms to (1) develop or acquire adequate defensibility measures and (2) consider acquiring analogous capabilities (i.e. their own supersonic cruising missile platform) to help support its conventional deterrence profile. Unfortunately, there are limitations – even on the market in general (much less Pakistan’s fiscal limitations) – which will show that “countering” the BrahMos may be an unreasonable expectation from a defensibility standpoint. Pakistan’s emphasis may be placed on acquiring an analogous solution in an effort to shore-up conventional deterrence.

Background

The BrahMos was born from India’s pursuit of a next-generation cruise missile from 1983, when India had initiated the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP).[1] The US-Iraq War of the early 1990s gave additional momentum to the IGMDP, prompting India to consult its partner Russia for support.

The BrahMos is a product of BrahMos Aerospace, a joint-venture involving Russia’s NPO Mashinostroyenia (NPOM) and India’s Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) formed in 1998 with a joint-investment of $250 million U.S. In terms of equity, NPOM and DRDO own 49.5% and 50.5% of BrahMos Aerospace, respectively.[2] According to BrahMos Aerospace, DRDO contributed its experience in producing “inertial navigation systems, mission software [and] mobile launchers” while NPOM brought its expertise in “ramjet engines together with a number of technologies for space systems.”[3]

In effect, for the BrahMos ASCM to reach fruition, the BrahMos Aerospace consortium required NPOM’s competency in ramjet propulsion technology, an area India did not (at least in 1998) have enough – if any – expertise in to independently undertake the program. This is an important point that will be discussed towards the end of this article regarding Pakistan’s options for acquiring an analogous capability.

BrahMos Aerospace conducted the first successful test-firing of the BrahMos ASCM in 2001 from a land-based launcher at India’s Integrated Test Range in Orissa.[4] Like other cruise missiles, the BrahMos ASCM utilizes an air-breathing engine, but to enable its supersonic cruising speed, it uses a ramjet engine instead of a miniature turbojet engine (as commonly found on subsonic ASCM such as the Harpoon and Exocet).

In air-breathing engines, thrust is achieved by having the engine intake external oxygen and have it help trigger combustion with the fuel. In turn, this hot air is pushed through the nozzle at the rear of the engine, thus resulting in thrust. However, for hot air to flow through the nozzle, the combustion must occur at a high pressure, which – in turbojet engines – is achieved with a compressor. While beset with moving parts, this process enables the turbojet engine to independently provide thrust to move from zero to X.

In a ramjet engine, the compressor is removed, leaving the ramjet with only static or non-moving parts. For it to achieve and maintain the requisite pressure without a compressor, it must be “rammed” into the air at a high speed – this occurs using a secondary thrust source, such as a rocket. A ramjet cannot offer thrust without that initial momentum (it cannot start from zero), thus necessitating a first-stage launch by rocket.[5] This results in a lighter and simpler missile (i.e. no compressor/moving parts). Unlike non-air-breathing rockets, such as most air-to-air missiles (AAM) or surface-to-air missiles (SAM), the BrahMos is still a cruise missile in the sense that its ramjet uses liquid fuel, which (in part) helps it sustain an endurance that is comparable to that of subsonic miniature turbojet-powered cruise missiles.

The BrahMos’ guidance suite is akin to that of other ASCM. Its mid-course guidance system uses a satellite-aided INS system. The INS guides the missile with commands input from the satellite-navigation system, which the BrahMos receives via the U.S. GPS and Russian GLONASS. When it switches to its terminal – i.e. final stage – the BrahMos relies on an active radar-homing (ARH) seeker.[6] The Indian Navy began inducting the BrahMos in 2005.[7] While its initial iteration possesses a range of 280 km, in March 2017, BrahMos Aerosapce tested an extended-range variant capable of a range of 400+ km (most sources state 450 km).[8] In November 2017, the Indian Air Force (IAF) had successfully test-fired an air-launched version of the BrahMos ER from a Sukhoi Su-30MKI.[9] Work is underway to configure 40 IAF Su-30MKIs with the BrahMos – work is expected to be complete by 2020-2021.[10]

With Russia’s support, India has acquired a potent and seemingly scalable design, one that it can and is largely expected to field in sizable numbers. The counter-strategy for BrahMos has two aspects; first, the ability to defend against the missile and second, to have a similar capability.

Defensibility

The BrahMos’ ability to cruise at supersonic speed presents two challenges: First, it reduces the reaction time available to Pakistan’s defensive systems, such as close-in-weapon-systems (CIWS) onboard its ships or low-level/short-range air defence systems (SHORAD) on land, to detect and neutralize the BrahMos. To be frank, with an incoming munition travelling at 1 km per second (!), the reaction time available to Pakistani assets is generally going to be less than a minute. Even with currently available methods (which are more modern than those in hand with Pakistan), interception is a daunting – potentially infeasible –  task. It is a matter of shoring up Pakistan’s chances more so than assuredly neutralizing the BrahMos. If Pakistan’s systems does manage to neutralize the missile, the BrahMos’ momentum (provided by its high-speed flight) could result in debris hitting a ship’s sensitive equipment, such as radar and other onboard electronics, such as communications and electronic support measures (ESM). Second, the BrahMos gives India the ability to strike time-sensitive targets (TST) – e.g. if it identifies Pakistani launchers at sea or on land (e.g. for the Ra’ad and/or Babur cruise missile), BrahMos could be deployed to interdict Pakistan’s offensive element by hitting those assets. India can fire the BrahMos from land, sea or air, thus providing it with an array of deployment options – giving it many opportunities to engage Pakistani targets.

The Pakistan Navy’s primary CIWS options are the AK-630 onboard the Azmat-class fast attack craft (FAC), Type 730B CIWS integrated to the F-22P frigate and Phalanx fitted to the Type 21 frigate. The Phalanx is a single 20-mm cannon guided by a Ku-band radar and forward infrared (FLIR) sensor. The Type 730B CIWS is similar in concept, but is a twin-barrel 30-mm cannon with an effective firing range of 3 km. It is guided by a J-band radar. The AK-630 is also a radar-guided twin-barrel 30 mm system, but with an effective firing range of up to 4 km. In general, these CIWS guns provide a relatively limited buffer between the BrahMos and the Navy’s surface combatants – the effective ranges are the upper-limits. Even if one can be intercepted (within a minute or less), a second and third are likely to hit if there are just CIWS guns in place to provide defence.

To augment CIWS guns and expand the defensive coverage range, the industry – specifically the US-based Raytheon – introduced the RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM). The RAM is a point-defence missile system (PDMS) designed to intercept multiple high-speed targets simultaneously. It comprises of a 21-cell pedestal launcher armed with the Mk.144 Guided Missile Weapon System (GMWS), a lightweight 73.5 kg missile tipped with a blast fragmentation warhead along with infrared seeker.[11] The range could not be independently verified, but it is certainly longer than that of CIWS guns – likely in the realm of a very short-range air defence (VSHORAD) system, i.e. 7-10 km. The RAM’s speed is Mach 2.[12] The infrared seeker is particularly helpful seeing that it can use the BrahMos’ principle advantage – i.e. its thrust – against it by clearly identifying the missile. The question is whether the RAM missile’s overall suite – i.e. the missile, seeker and ship-based radar and/or electro-optical system (in case of having to operate under electronic warfare jamming conditions) – can accurately determine an optimal point-of-interception and actually achieve it, especially against a saturation strike. The RAM is widely adopted within the U.S. Navy and among U.S. allies, but its viability in real-world use against incoming supersonic ASCM is untested.

Considering Pakistan’s tenuous ties with the U.S., it is unclear if it can access the RAM or SeaRAM (which integrates the RAM launcher with a standalone radar and FLIR suite so that it can undertake the guidance of the RAM missile independently). However, China has an analogous solution that mirrors the RAM in its concept – i.e. the FL-3000N. It appears to be offered in several formats, e.g. from pedestal launchers with as few as eight cells to launchers with as many as 22 cells. Like the RAM, the FL-3000N’s guidance comes from an infrared seeker.[13] Specific technical details, such as the missile weight, range and speed, have not been provided, though the concept itself is – like the RAM – untested in real-world combat use. However, for Pakistan the point is that a RAM-like solution is currently available on the market, giving the Pakistan Navy the opportunity to upgrade its current ships and equip its future combatants with the system.

Western alternatives are scarce, but the French Thales Crotale NG could be an option. This is not like the legacy Crotale the PAF had used (or the Chinese FM90 SAM the Army and Navy use today). Rather, the Crotale NG uses the VT1 SAM, which is similar in design concept to the GMWS used by the RAM. According to Thales, the VT1 has a range of up to 15 km and speed of over Mach 3.5. The VT1 is guided by a platform-based Ku-band radar with a range of over 20 km and electro-optical tracker with a range of 20 km. It has eight cells integrated to a pedestal launcher. It can also be integrated as a vertical launch system (VLS). However, as with the RAM and FL-3000N, these might improve defensibility over CIWS, but it would be erroneous to suggest that these assure threat neutralization against the BrahMos. The VT1 is interesting in that it can match or exceed the BrahMos’ speed, but it is an untested option.

On land, Pakistan will not be able to cover (nor can India attack) every conceivable launch point for the Babur land-attack cruise missile (LACM) or Pakistan’s ballistic missiles. However, high-value installations (HVI) do require defensibility against high-speed and low-flying threats such as the BrahMos. Pakistan will need to continue modernizing its low-level integrated air defence system (IADS), ideally with SAMs fitted with active terminal-stage seekers such as infrared (IR) or imaging infrared (IIR).

The Denel Umkhonto IR from South Africa is an accessible option – it has a range of 20 km, uses a terminal-stage IR seeker and is affordable (e.g. Algeria had procured a package for two MEKO A-200AN frigates – i.e. 32 launch-cells each plus integration and testing costs– for a total of $63 million U.S.[14]). An alternate option could be repurposing the A-Darter high off-boresight air-to-air missile (HOBS AAM) into a SAM. In either case, one could work the missile’s mid-course guidance suite to rely on a ground-based radar or optical tracker (like the RAM and Crotale NG), but leverage the thrust-vectoring nozzles, high-speed flight and electronic-jamming resistant IIR seekers of the A-Darter or Umkhonto for the interception process.

Aside from the Umkhonto IR, working with a South African solution would necessitate a project. However, Pakistan could consider approaching Denel Dynamics to co-develop and co-produce a short-to-medium range SAM system with PDMS capabilities for land and sea applications. In this sense, Denel Dynamics has the core munitions – i.e. the Umkhonto IR and A-Darter – in serial production already, it is now a matter of pairing them into a cohesive system by integrating a guidance radar and electro-optical tracker. It could be a catalyst for both providing Pakistan with near-term SHORAD solutions and, over the long-term, take on the development of core technologies (e.g. rocket and seekers) for SAMs and AAMs.

However, intercepting the BrahMos necessitates an air defence system organically designed to intercept incoming supersonic threats, and that too with the prospect of saturated strikes (stressing the IADS). Ultimately, one’s short-range solutions – be it CIWS guns or PDMS such as the RAM et. al – are but one component in an umbrella that must include medium-range and long-range SAMs as well. As stated earlier, modernizing the SHORAD element would be more of an effort to ‘shore up defences’ than assuredly neutralizing the BrahMos threat. It is unclear if absolute defensibility in all respects is even an option. Pakistan may ultimately need to channel its offensive and mission-critical warfighting systems to assets that cannot be dealt with by the BrahMos, such as submarines and combat aircraft, and push for analogous capability.

Analogous Capability

Pakistan already operates a complete range of sub-sonic cruise missiles. These include the Babur-series of land-attack cruise missiles (LACM), Ra’ad air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) and several sea-skimming anti-ship missiles (AShM) such as the Chinese C-802, Boeing Harpoon and MBDA Exocet. Although there are rumours of Pakistan also possessing the CM-400AKG, neither it or any of Pakistan’s other AShM/LACM are supersonic cruising (i.e. sustain supersonic flight for the duration of the flight).

By disseminating the BrahMos across each of its service arms, it is clear that India sees value in deploying a supersonic ASCM. This should not surprise anyone seeing how difficult it is to assuredly neutralize the threat, Pakistan’s next option could be to emulate the capability. Likewise, Pakistan also has the option of leveraging similar pressure-inducing means through its own supersonic cruising ASCM procurement. China has at least two such missiles on offer: the CX-1 and the CM-302.[15] The CM-302 is confirmed to be a supersonic cruising missile with a range of 280 km and ability to be deployable from land, sea or air. It has a weight of 2,000-2,500 kg. In terms of a near-term acquisition, the CM-302 would be the most plausible option. However, it might be a costly system, which could limit Pakistan’s ability to disseminate them as widely as India.

It is worth remembering that subsonic AShM themselves were not common in their early periods, but as manufacturing the critical subsystems (e.g. miniature turbojet and INS guidance suites) became feasible, subsonic AShM became a staple in which all naval platforms require for offensive capabilities. Even if the offensive value of supersonic cruising ASCM can be mitigated with new naval SAM systems, the availability of the latter would logically necessitate faster and less-stoppable missiles – i.e. supersonic ASCM.

In the past, Pakistan missed out on the opportunity of undertaking domestic subsonic AShM production. At the time, the rationale was that Pakistan would not be able to induct enough to justify the overhead of raising the requisite infrastructure. However, it has made successive incremental AShM orders – and that too from different vendors – along with related development in LACMs (like AShM, LACM use miniature turbojet engines and mid-course INS guidance suites). Despite the initial thought of not having enough of a requirement to sustain AShM manufacturing, Pakistan imported and developed many cruising missiles for use at sea and over land. This time, it would be wise for Pakistan to think 30 years ahead and anticipate supersonic AShM and LACM becoming commonplace, i.e. establish a long-term procurement roadmap scaling research, development and domestic manufacturing.

In this respect, Pakistan can emulate India’s model of partnering with an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) with comprehensive expertise in propulsion technology and missile development. China would be a natural partner seeing that it has already advanced an export-oriented design in the CM-302. Moreover, Pakistan managing to possess a supersonic cruising ASCM would also induce pressure on India, which can relieve pressure on China in the Pacific Ocean. Deriving a new product using an existing platform such as the CM-302 would be a cost-effective route, though Pakistan – like India – can consider a long-term development track as well for extending the range and reducing missile weight.

However, it would be grossly erroneous to suggest that the domestic production process outlined above would be a complete turnkey program. Collaborating with China (or any other country) on an off-the-shelf program is unlikely to yield transfer-of-technology for the engine. Rather, Pakistan can push to manufacture a sizable proportion of the missile system, such as its guidance suite, frame and radome. Like the BrahMos, this would be a consortium wherein both China and Pakistan would provide components for the missile – China will certainly be the engine OEM.

On the other hand, pursuing an off-the-shelf co-production effort need not prevent Pakistan from its own ramjet engine development track. It would not be simple or low-cost, but the advantage of a parallel off-the-shelf program is that the native program can benefit from a longer-term process with incremental, but consistent, funding. Organic research and development of this nature could be done in collaboration (be it for the whole or specific contributing inputs of the engine) with South Africa, Brazil, Ukraine, Serbia, the Czech Republic and/or Turkey (each of these countries has varying expertise and existing R&D work in the area). Today, it is not known how far Pakistan is (if it is on the spectrum) on miniature jet-engines. For example, Pakistan’s National Engineering & Scientific Commission (NESCOM) bought PBS TJ100 mini-turbojets from the Czech Republic in 2016 and 2017 (likely for target drones).[16] [17] Such imports would indicate a lack of any substantive progress, leaving this route an aspirational thought more so than a tangible path (unless Pakistani security strategists pivot).

Like India, Pakistan deploy a supersonic ASCM from its surface warships – such as the Azmat FAC for A2/AD or the F-22P and future frigate from China – and aircraft, including fighters. In fact, the latter could be an interesting route in light of the Pakistan Air Force’s (PAF) fifth-generation fighter (FGF) program. Consider concealing a supersonic ASCM in the internal bay. In maritime operations, this would be a potent package enabling the PAF to low-key deploy a fighter close towards a high-value surface warship, fire the ASCM at a safe range and leave the engagement zone long before the missile is potentially even detected.

Conclusion

It may not be possible to consider the BrahMos a neutralizable threat, at least in the near-term. Unfortunately, while shoring up defensibility through PDMS and trying to match the BrahMos with an analogous supersonic cruising missile are essentially the only near-term options available, Pakistan is bound by its fiscal realities. Even if these limits did not impede its procurement ability for such systems, they do stand in sharp contrast to India’s spending power, which enables India to invest more than Pakistan can on defending against supersonic ASCM. Thus, even Pakistan’s offensive capability can be relatively dampened, though whether this dampening is decisive enough to make a difference in an actual conflict scenario is unknown.

[1] BrahMos Aerospace. URL: http://www.brahmos.com/content.php?id=1&sid=2 (Accessed: 17 December 2017)

[2] BrahMos Aerospace. URL: http://www.brahmos.com/content.php?id=1 (Accessed: 17 December 2017)

[3] Ibid.

[4] BrahMos Aerospace. URL: http://www.brahmos.com/content.php?id=1&sid=2 (Accessed: 17 December 2017)

[5] “Ramjet Propulsion.” National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). URL: https://www.grc.nasa.gov/www/k-12/airplane/ramjet.html (Accessed: 17 December 2017)

[6] BrahMos Aerospace. URL: https://web.archive.org/web/20130805102113/http://brahmos.com/content.php?id=15 (Accessed: 17 December 2017).

[7] Ibid.

[8] “BrahMos Extended Range (ER) missile successfully test-fired.” BrahMos Aerospace. URL: http://www.brahmos.com/newscenter.php?newsid=207 (Accessed: 17 December 2017)

[9] “PM expresses delight on the successful maiden test firing of BrahMos ALCM from Su-30MKI.” Publication Information Bureau: Government of India. 22 November 2017 URL: http://pib.nic.in/PressReleseDetail.aspx?PRID=1510557 (Accessed: 17 December 2017)

[10] Rahul Bedi. “IAF begins modifying Su-30MKIs for integration with BrahMos-A cruise missiles.” IHS Jane’s. 20 December 2017. URL: http://www.janes.com/article/76528/iaf-begins-modifying-su-30mkis-for-integration-with-brahmos-a-cruise-missiles (Accessed: 21 December 2017)

[11] RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile. United States Navy Fact File. URL: http://www.navy.mil/navydata/fact_display.asp?cid=2200&tid=800&ct=2 (Accessed: 20 December 2017)

[12] Ibid.

[13] “FL-3000N / HHQ-10 Missile CIWS Air Defense System.” Defense Updates. 04 December 2012. URL: http://defenseupdates.blogspot.ca/2012/12/fl-3000n-hhq-10-missile-ciws-air.html (Accessed: 15 December 2017)

[14] 2016-2017 Denel Group SOC Financial Report. URL: http://admin.denel.co.za/uploads/35ae607a5a1262a29df6c671801de828.pdf (Accessed: 19 December 2017)

[15] Andrew Tate. “China offers export version of YJ-12 supersonic anti-ship missile.” IHS Jane’s. 09 November 2016. URL: https://web.archive.org/web/20170126082541/http://www.janes.com/article/65364/china-offers-export-version-of-yj-12-supersonic-anti-ship-missile (Accessed: 20 December 2017)

[16] “PBS TJ100 Jet Engine for UAVs and Target Drones.” První brněnská strojírna Velká Bíteš, a.s. (PBS). URL: http://www.pbsvb.cz/PBS/media/content/Documents/PBS-TJ100-Military-Technology.pdf (Last Accessed: 20 December 2017).

[17] As per EXIM Trade Info, NESCOM registered two imports from PBS for turbojet engines in 2016 and 2017. URL: https://pak.eximtradeinfo.com/items/turbojet (Last Accessed: 21 December 2017).

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