Artillery: India's First Cruise Missile Battalion


July 11, 2006: The Indian army has activated it's first BrahMos cruise missile battalion. The PJ-10 BrahMos missiles are carried, three to a truck, on a vehicle which also acts as a launcher. The 3.2 ton missile has a range of 300 kilometers and has a 660 pound warhead. Perhaps the most striking characteristic of the BrahMos is its high speed, literally faster (at up to 3,000 feet per second) than a rifle bullet.
India and Russia developed the weapon together, and also offer the BrahMos for export. The high price of each missile, about $2.3 million, restricts the number of countries that can afford it. India's BrahMos battalion has four launcher vehicles, plus support vehicles and sixty missiles. Do the math (that's over $150 million for one battalion.) Five older destroyers have been retrofitted with at least four BrahMos each, and new ships will have the missile as well.
The weapon was a joint development project that entered service with the Indian navy in 2005. Different versions of the PJ-10 can be fired from the air, from ships or submarines. 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. The air launched version weighs 2.5 tons, the others, three tons or more. The 29 foot long, 670mm diameter missile is an upgraded version of the Russian SS-NX-26 (Yakhont) missile, which was in development when the Cold War ended in 1991. Lacking money to finish development and begin production, the Russian manufacturer 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, with India as the initial customer. China and Iran have also expressed interest in the weapon.
The SS-NX-26 (Yakhont)/BrahMos) was originally developed as an aircraft carrier killer. That's why it has the high speed and elaborate guidance system. And that's why it's so expensive. A similar American weapon, the ATACMS rocket, also has a range of 300 kilometers, uses GPS guidance, and has a 500 pound warhead. ATACMS costs a million dollars each, but is not as fast and lacks an elaborate terminal guidance system. The land version of BrahMos would be an effective coast defense weapon. For example, if the Iranians got several dozen land launched BrahMos missiles, they could pose a real threat to any ships using the Straits of Hormuz. In other words, the BrahMos missile could close those straits, through which most of the worlds oil supplies pass. Russia would benefit from that, because the price of their oil exports would climb. India would not like it, as they import oil from the Persian Gulf. India and Russia are both supposed to have a veto over who can buy BrahMos. So while Russia might like to sell Iran BrahMos, India would probably object.
At the moment, the most likely targets for BrahMos are Pakistani. Against ships, you can justify a $2.3 million missile, but there are few land targets, within range of the BrahMos, that are worth the cost. Moreover, India has cheaper ballistic missiles for that sort of thing, as well as bomb and missile carrying jets. BrahMos was designed to hit a moving target, and do so at high speed, to make defensive measures less effective. To that end, India is developing the air launched version, which will be carried by its Su-30 fighters. There might also eventually be a cheaper land based version, using a less expensive guidance system (like GPS) for stationary land targets. India and Russia plan to manufacture about a thousand BrahMos over the next ten years, including those needed for export.




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