The space between the Su-30MKI's engines where the Brahmos will be fitted
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 23rd Apr 14
There will soon be a more practical way of retaliating against a foreign-backed terror attack on Indian soil than mobilizing our 16 lakh-strong military for a war that might trigger a nuclear conflagration. Instead, New Delhi will soon be able to punish terrorists harbouring across the border with surgical strikes from Brahmos cruise missile, fitted on Sukhoi-30MKI fighters.
The supersonic Brahmos, jointly developed by India and Russia, already equips Indian warships and artillery units. Yet its limited range of 295 kilometres means that targets far across the border are out of reach. That will change once Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), Nashik, fits the Brahmos onto the Sukhoi-30MKI fighter, allowing the missile to be carried for over a thousand kilometres and then launched at a target another 295 kilometres away.
Parked in a hangar in HAL’s Nashik facility is the first Su-30MKI that is being modified to carry the Brahmos in the cavity between the aircraft’s giant engines. Later this year, ground tests will begin at Nashik. If successful, the aircraft will be ferried to Rajasthan to actually test-fire the missile in Pokhran. If all goes well, the air-launched Brahmos would enter operational service next year.
While HAL modifies the aircraft, the Indo-Russian joint venture that has developed the Brahmos is finalising and certifying an air-launched version of the missile.
Developing an air-launched Brahmos has not been easy, given its weight (2.5 tonnes) and size (8 metres long, 0.7 metres in diameter). The Indian Air Force (IAF) challenged both Sukhoi and HAL to propose competing solutions for integrating missile with aircraft. The Indian solution won out handily, and a contract was signed with HAL in January. Already the Brahmos has been mounted under the Su-30MKI’s belly, secured on two mounting stations that replace hard points that were designed to carry ten 250-kilogramme bombs.
“The Russians are most interested in how HAL is integrating the Brahmos. We beat them out in the contract and now they want to know what we’re doing,” says RP Khapli, who is leading HAL’s design team in the project.
Nobody will acknowledge this, but modifying a Su-30MKI to carry a 2,500 kg missile is a big step towards rendering it capable of carrying and delivering a thermonuclear bomb.
A Brahmos air launch is a relatively straightforward affair. Before take-off, the target coordinates are fed into the missile. When the Su-30MKI reaches the designated launch point, probably just short of the border to maximise range, the pilot releases the Brahmos. The missile drops clear of the aircraft before its booster ignites; then, powered by a ramjet, it quickly accelerates to more than twice the speed of sound providing little reaction time to enemy air defence fighters and missiles. Guided by navigation satellites, its inertial navigation system takes it precisely to its target.
Besides punitive strikes on terrorist targets, an air-launched Brahmos would also be the weapon of choice for striking heavily defended targets --- such as enemy air bases or headquarters --- without risking a manned aircraft. The Su-30MKI would release the Brahmos from a safe distance of 295 kilometres and then head back to base even as the missile heads for the target.
Integrating the Brahmos with the Su-30MKI encountered several technical challenges. IIT Mumbai assisted with studies in “computational fluid dynamics” to ascertain that the giant missile did not create disruptive airflow that would destabilise the fighter or starve its two engines of air.
HAL had already experienced such difficulties whilst upgrading the MiG-21BIS with four new missiles. That fighter’s engine had to be modified with an anti-surge system to avoid shut off. This experience, say HAL designers, came in handy.
Besides the Brahmos project, HAL’s Aircraft Upgrade R&D Centre (AURDC) has developed over 40 modifications to enhance the performance of the Su-30MKI. It has also developed almost 400 types of ground equipment, such as oxygen chargers, nitrogen chargers, mobile air charging trolleys and cooling trolleys.
“We are not just building aircraft for the IAF, but are also a knowledge partner for indigenization,” says Khapli.