June 8, 2010:
India is having Russian firms upgrade 40 Indian Su-30MKIs with new radars, computers, electronic warfare gear, and the ability to carry and launch BrahMos missiles. India has about a hundred Su-30MKIs in service, and is building about one a month under license. India bought fifty in the late 1990s, and another 40 four years ago. This is in addition to the license to build 170 locally. India wants to have nearly 300 within five years, partly because of the increasing threat of invasion by China.
The first 18 Su-30s India received from Russia have been retired after a decade of service. In many respects, the Indian made Su-30s, the Su-30MKI, is the most capable version available, due to its Israeli and European electronics, and the well trained Indian pilots. The 38 ton SU-30MKI is most similar to the two seat American F-15E fighter-bomber. Even though equipped with Western electronics, the aircraft cost less than $40 million each, about half what an equivalent F-15 costs. The Su-30MKI can carry more than eight tons of bombs and hit targets over 1,500 kilometers away.
The air launched BrahMos weighs 2.5 tons, while the army and navy versions weigh three tons or more. The air force wants an even smaller, and lighter version of BrahMos, and the government has agreed to fund that work as well. India and Russia developed the weapon together, and now offer the BrahMos for export. The high price of each missile, about $2-3 million (depending on the version), restricts the number of countries that can afford it. The weapon entered service with the Indian navy in 2005.
The BrahMos has a range of 300 kilometers and a 300 kg/660 pound warhead. Perhaps the most striking characteristic is its high speed, literally faster (at up to 3,000 feet per second) than a rifle bullet. The maximum speed of 3,000 kilometers an hour makes it harder to intercept, and means it takes five minutes or less to reach its target. Guidance is GPS or inertial to reach the general area of the target (usually a ship or other small target), then radar that will identify the specific target and hit it. The warhead weighs 660 pounds, and the high speed at impact causes additional damage (because of the weight of the entire missile.)
The 9.4 meter (29 foot) long, 670mm diameter missile is an upgraded version of the Russian SS-NX-26 (Yakhont) missile, which was still in development when the Cold War ended in 1991. Lacking money to finish development and begin production, the Russian manufacturer eventually made a deal with India to finish the job. India put up most of the $240 million needed to finally complete two decades of development. The PJ-10 is being built in Russia and India, with the Russians assisting India in setting up manufacturing facilities for cruise missile components. Efforts are being made to export up to 2,000, but no one has placed an order yet. Russia and India are encouraged enough to invest in BrahMos 2, which will use a scramjet, instead of a ramjet, in the second stage. This would double speed, and make the missile much more difficult to defend against.
India plans to make the missile a major weapon system. The BrahMos can carry a nuclear warhead, but is designed mainly to go after high value targets that require a large warhead and great accuracy. The BrahMos could take out enemy headquarters, or key weapons systems (especially those employing electronic or nuclear weapons.)