J C Menon
The Indo-Russian BrahMos Air-Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM) variant has received combat clearance. The 2.5 tonne missile has a range of around 300 km (186 mi.), can be dropped from 500 to 14,000 metres and can travel at a speed of Mach 2.8, nearly three times that of sound. The ALCM is around 0.65 tonnes lighter and 50cm shorter than the ground-launched version, though the integration of the weapon onto the aircraft has been a very complex process involving mechanical, electrical and software modifications on aircraft, a BrahMos official said.
“The IAF became the first air force in the world to have successfully fired an air-launched 2.8 Mach surface attack missile of this category on a sea target on 22nd Nov 2017,” an IAF official said. Another test on 22nd May 2019 was the second such live launch of the missile from an aircraft and a large fleet of jets equipped with missiles under the BrahMos-Su-30MKI weapon-platform integration programme are ready for deployment, the official added.
The software development of the aircraft was undertaken by the IAF engineers, while the state-run aerospace Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd carried out mechanical and electrical modifications on the aircraft. The BrahMos ALCM provides the IAF with a much-desired competence to strike from large stand-off ranges on any target at sea or on land with pinpoint accuracy by day or night and in all weather conditions.
The Indian government approved a US$1.5Bn proposal in 2012 to procure over 200 ALCMs, which included money to be spent on integration and testing of the missile with the Su-30MKI aircraft. The capability of the missile coupled with the superlative performance of the Su-30MKI aircraft gives the IAF the desired tactical influence, defence experts say.