This month, Indian Air Chief Marshal Vivek Ram Chaudhari said that the air-launched, upgraded version of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile and the upcoming BrahMos New Generation (BNG) are set to become the primary deterrent weapons of the Indian Air Force (IAF).

Chaudhari, the IAF’s chief of air staff, noted that combining the BrahMos with the Russian-made Su-30 fighter jet has enhanced India’s firepower and deterrent capabilities, claiming the combination has given India better strike capability and enhanced its firepower.

Chaudhari said that current conflicts had emphasized the importance of long-range precision firepower, making it imperative for India to develop a cheaper, smaller version of the air-launched BrahMos but with the same range and lethality.

China’s rapid military modernization may already have opened a missile gap with India. In particular, India is likely not capable of launching long-range offensive precision strikes on Chinese military bases, command centres and airfields as China has the capability to do to India.

Kartik Bommakanti notes in a 2020 Observer Research Foundation (ORF) paper that air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) have enormous advantages in the initial stages of a conflict, as they can eliminate air defences and airfields. Moreover, Bommakanti mentions that ALCMs can be delivered at substantial standoff ranges, away from air defences and fighter aircraft ranges.

He notes that China’s subsonic, turbofan-powered CJ-20 ALCM has a 1,500-kilometer range that can be extended to 4,000 kilometers when launched from an H-6K strategic bomber.

With that formidable range, Bommakanti says that the CJ-20 can be launched beyond India’s aerial interception and engagement capabilities. India has no fighters or air defence systems to engage targets at such extreme ranges, he notes.

China’s capabilities present a serious threat to India’s troop concentrations, equipment command and control facilities, airbases, and advanced landing grounds in Ladakh, northern India and across north-eastern India.

Adding to India’s comparative disadvantage, China has already developed air-launched hypersonics. Last November, Asia Times reported on China’s new CM-401 air-launched hypersonic missile, which can reportedly travel at speeds of Mach 6 at up to 290 kilometers, launch into a near-space trajectory and manoeuvre at hypersonic speeds.

An air launch from an H-6K bomber would drastically improve the CM-401’s performance, increasing its range to 3,500 kilometers or more with aerial refuelling. India currently has no match for the CJ-20 or CM-401, with its rival Nirbhay cruise missile known to face range and reliability problems.

Read More – Indian Air Force Chief Urges Development of Compact BrahMos Missile for Fighter Jet

Missile Threat notes that India’s Nirbhay has a range of 800 to 1,500 kilometers with a 450-kilogram payload and is primarily launched from land-based launchers, though some reports suggest that it can also be deployed on submarines.

Missile Threat notes that the Nirbhay suffered multiple launch failures in 2015, 2016 and 2020. These failures suggest the missile may need a protracted development period before being fielded in substantial numbers.

Although India has taken the initial steps to build a rocket force to deter China, there, too, it faces operational and strategic limitations that constrain its usefulness compared to ALCMs.

Last December, Asia Times reported on the establishment of the Indian Rocket Force (IRF) built around Pralay and Prithvi short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM), Shaurya and Prahaar road-mobile SRBMs and BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles.

However, the Pralay and Prithvi have ranges of just 150 to 500 kilometers and 150 to 350 kilometers, respectively. Moreover, India only has limited numbers of Shaurya and Prahaar road-mobile SRBMs, respectively with ranges of 750 kilometers and 150 kilometers. The high cost of the BrahMos at US$3.2-3.5 million per missile means India can only field them in small numbers.



While India has ballistic missiles such as the Agni-V intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with a 5,000-kilometer range that can hit targets in northern China, using ballistic missiles to attack targets deep in China may result in unintended and unpredictably dangerous escalation.

That is because it is difficult to distinguish between a conventional and nuclear ballistic missile attack. Moreover, most of India’s ballistic missiles are designed to deliver nuclear warheads, increasing the risk of nuclear escalation.

With Chaudhari saying that the BrahMos family of air-launched supersonic cruise missiles will become the IAF’s primary deterrent, India may be developing the air-based leg of a nascent nuclear triad.

India already operates the INS Arihant nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN). In addition, it has a substantial land-based nuclear arsenal, with the introduction of a nuclear-tipped air-launched BrahMos completing India’s nuclear triad.

However, Joy Mitra notes in a September 2020 South Asian Voices article that while the BrahMos is designed to defeat China’s missile defences, with a range of 800-1,000 kilometers that can be extended by 3,600 kilometers by the Su-30, India faces hurdles in making a nuclear-tipped version.

Mitra says that since BrahMos is a joint India-Russia project, Moscow’s consent is necessary to make a nuclear-armed BrahMos, especially since Russia makes the BrahMos’ seeker and propulsion systems.

Mitra also notes that nuclear-tipped BrahMos missiles present an ambiguity problem because they make it difficult for an adversary to tell whether a BrahMos-armed Su-30 carries a nuclear or conventional missile, which can lead to unintended nuclear escalation.

Sources – Indiandefensenews