What’s Really Holding Up The Sub-launched & Air-launched Variants?
There’s so much in the press about the air-launched and submarine-launched variants of BrahMos, that one would imagine it’s all laid out on the table for everyone to see. Far from it. There are real predicaments that the programme team is grappling with to get these two critical variants into operational service. As of now, both are far from it. First, what’s dogging the air-launched variant.
The first air-launched BrahMos will be integrated on a Naval Tu-142 strat-recon aircraft. BrahMos CEO Dr A Sivathanu Pillai told LiveFist, “We are working towards development trials on the Tu-142. The people at Tupolev are being very helpful. It is a fantastic aircraft. It is a perfect platform for payload capacity and to carry the telemetry systems we will require for the development trials, planned in two years.”
I wrote here a few weeks ago that the Su-30 integration of the BrahMos was on the backburner for now. Now, Dr Pillai has confirmed this to be the case. The facts: the Sukhoi Design Bureau is steeped in the PAK-FA fifth generation fighter programme, and has accorded low priority to providing consultation to BrahMos on the structural changes required to the Su-30MKI airframe fuselage and wings for integration of the air-launched missile. A thought process transpired briefly in 2006 that the structural changes could be carried out by HAL, considering that it was license manufacturing the Su-30s at Nashik. However, the Russian partners in BrahMos (NPOM) are understood to have put their foot down, and said that any changes to the Su-30MKI airframe would need to in consultation with the Sukhoi Design Bureau. So now, with a finned reduced-booster missile ready for tests, the Su-30MKI configuration waits for the design bureau to deign its time (as an aside, HAL doesn’t have a single page of design details of the Su-30MKI — as usual, it’s just cookie-cutting Flankers at Nashik without a damn clue about the intricacies of its design, and the Russians are of course too happy not to share any — food for thought).
And finally, the Navy’s Ilyushin-38 is officially off the table as a potential carrier of the BrahMos. Three months ago, the Navy asked BrahMos not to proceed on design integration of the missile with the Il-38 platform. The reasons: after integration of the BrahMos on an Il-38’s belly hardpoint, ground clearance became dangerously low — a potential threat during landing. Secondly — and this is probably more of a reason! — the Navy said it already had its hands full warring with Russia over the disastrous Sea Dragon avionics upgrade of the Il-38s, and that it didn’t want integration questions to “add to the mess”. And that’s how the Tu-142 was identified as the platform of choice. Now, an update about the submarine-launched variant.
This is the more interesting of the two, really. First, Dr Pillai says the submarine-launched BrahMos is “ready in every way” and that the only requiremet now is a platform to test it. Now, for the facts. The submarine-launched BrahMos is indeed ready for platform tests. Last year, the Navy offered one of its Kilo-class submarines to BrahMos for a test. After deliberations with the Navy, BrahMos finally decided that testing on a Kilo-class boat was not a viable option — the platforms are not new, and are a good way into their operational life. The Navy accepted this, and came up with another idea: that BrahMos should plan for integration tests on the fifth and sixth Scorpene submarines being built by Mazagon Docks. This was almost immediately turned down obviously — first, the fifth and sixth Scorpene’s would be delivered well into the next decade, and two, the Russians don’t want to install the BrahMos on French platforms to kick off the sub-launched version. Obviously the Russians have their own ulterior motives…
Next week, a large team from Russia will land in India for their first extensive bilateral discussions on the Amur-class submarine as the Indian Navy’s possible choice of boat for its second line of submarines at Mazagon Docks (a line that will run parallel to the Scorpene line). The Russian component of BrahMos (NPOM) is extremely keen that the BrahMos be integrated tested on an Amur boat before any other — it has offered BrahMos an Amur for tests already. Who said the Russians don’t play hardball!
(Tomorrow: The Lowdown on BrahMos-2)
Photo ©Copyright B Harry taken from DefenceTalk