India successfully test-fired Brahmos from a Su-30 fighter aircraft; Russia asked for Rs 1,300 crore for missile integration, Indian companies did it for Rs 80 crore.
It was a hot summer forenoon of 1 May 2013 when as chairman of the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), I had a strategic discussion with CEO of Brahmos Aerospace, at his office in Kirby Place, New Delhi. During the discussions he enquired whether HAL had the technical capability to integrate the Brahmos missile on to the Air Force’s Su-30 MKI fighters.
He also said that Russia had offered to do it at a cost of $200 million (Rs 1,300 crore approx). He was not sure, however, if spending so much would help India gain any technological expertise. Air Marshal Arup Raha, vice-chief of IAF (who later took over as IAF chief in December 2013), told me in another meeting that this integration will be a game changer for the Air Force and 40 Su-30s would need such modifications.
Our designers in Nashik went into the details of the challenges involved and a few months later, we confirmed we could do it. There was, however, another challenge. A.S. Pillai, CEO, Brahmos, indicated that he had a budget of only Rs 80 crore for this project and requested HAL to stay within this.
Considering the financial limitation of Brahmos, the HAL board took a historic decision that even if the firm will not make a profit on this task, it will be a good project and should be undertaken in national interest.
It was for the first time in the history of HAL that it was decided to absorb the design and development costs, waive the profit element and contingency costs and finalise a technology project for only Rs 80 crore. This showed the positive synergy between IAF and the industry where cost becomes secondary and national pride, competence and technology development comes to the fore.
Four years later, on 22 November 2017, a Su-30 MKI took off from Kalaikunda, carrying a 2.5-tonne Brahmos missile for test firing at a target in the Bay of Bengal. In copy book style, the missile struck a target on sea, located 260 km away with a high degree of precision and perfection.
We celebrate this success in two ways. First, the integration of Brahmos Air Launch Cruise Missile (ALCM) greatly enhances IAF’s ability to strike heavily defended targets deep into enemy territory, up to a range of 2,100 km (or 3,900 kms with a refueller).
Even if Brahmos is fired from a Su-30 MKI that remains within Indian borders, a wide strike range of 290 km is now available. This will be a paradigm shift for tomorrow’s confrontations with hostile countries. In active wars, the top priority is to destroy strategic enemy locations and defence infrastructure such as nuclear weapon batteries and the air launched Brahmos will provide India these capabilities.
Second, the test is a demonstration of how indigenous technical capabilities have been developed in the country. More than 100 Indian companies involving 20,000 specialists, engineers and technicians work on Brahmos manufacturing and technical modifications.
Modification of the Su-30 MKI for Brahmos integration involved safe stores separation analysis consisting of wind tunnel and CFD (computational fluid dynamics) analysis. Watertight NMG (numerical master geometry) of the aircraft had to be generated from 2D drawings.
Structural modifications had to be within the aircraft’s centre of gravity (CG) envelope and in such a way that they did not alter vibration characteristics. Carriage and release actuation along with electrical and avionics integration was another challenge. FTI (flight test instrumentation) for the operations along with missile system software modifications also had to be undertaken. All this was done by a consortium of Indian industry led by HAL.
Economic prosperity and technology prowess of a country depend on how the scientific and technological community of that country come together on projects of strategic importance. Many other agencies like RCMA, DGAQA, CEMILAC, NAL, AST, SDI, MSQAA, NEUCON, and Zeus Numerix worked together on this project.
The Brahmos integration is just the beginning. The know-how developed on this project should now be leveraged to develop an upgraded Su-30 (Super Su-30) with stronger structures, better avionics and radars and more effective combat capabilities. This can create an impregnable combat cover of at least 1,500 km depth around all Indian borders — at land or on high seas.
Brahmos missile has now achieved the challenges of integration into all three versions for land, water and air attacks. I understand that Brahmos Aerospace will now be working on the hypersonic version (5-7 Mach) with an extended range of 600 km.
R.K. Tyagi is president, Aeronautical Society of India and former HAL chairman
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