|DRDO successfully flight tests scramjet-powered Hypersonic glide vehicle|In March this year, Russia announced it had fired a hypersonic ballistic missile, the Kinzhal, to destroy a huge underground arms depot in western Ukraine. In India, military planners have been keenly awaiting the dawn of the country’s own hypersonic missile. Missile scientists associated with the Indo-Russian joint venture BrahMos are working on the hypersonic missile technology, which only Russia and China possess. Even the US is still developing the technology.
HSTDV glide vehicle mounted atop a solid booster stage before launch on 7 September 2020 at Launch Complex-IV (LC-IV) located in Abdul Kalam Island in Balasore
A hypersonic missile travels at the speed of at least Mach 5. Unlike a ballistic missile, which follows a defined trajectory, it is highly manoeuvrable. In India, the BrahMos-2 will be the hypersonic version of the missile and will probably have a range of 1,500 km. Trials have put its speed at almost Mach 8, making it the fastest in the world. “BrahMos-2 is a hypersonic version of the missile. It is likely to enter the prototype stage in the next three years,” said a top defence ministry official, adding that a series of tests of the missile were conducted at the speed of Mach 6.5. In 2020, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) had tested the hypersonic air-breathing scramjet system for propulsion, called the Hypersonic Technology Demonstration Vehicle or HSTDV. According to a defence official, the HSTDV attained a speed of Mach 6 for 23 seconds during the testing. “India has joined a select group of countries, including the United States, Russia, and China, that have indigenously developed technology capable of making the HSTDV take an unpredictable trajectory and elude interceptor detection,” a defence official said, adding that the test-firing might be related to the BrahMos-2 hypersonic missile, which is expected to be modelled on Russia’s Zircon hypersonic missile. BrahMos is the only cruise missile to be exported by India. The Philippines will be its first foreign buyer while countries like Indonesia have shown keen interest in it. The current versions of the BrahMos have a range of about 500 km, with the export variant having a range of 290 km to keep it under the MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime) restrictions of 300 km.
The MTCR lays down regulations to limit the proliferation of missiles and missile technology.
“Although not legally binding on members, the informal political set-up has ensured every country enjoys the right to protect itself using ballistic missiles while ensuring only responsible members can develop ballistic technologies that might be used for attack, not defence,” says Indian defence expert Girish Linganna. Also in the works is the BrahMos-NG (next generation), which is smaller in size (6 metres long) than the original BrahMos and weighs 1.6 tons. The original BrahMos weights three tonnes and is nine metres long. The BrahMos-NG boasts of a range of 290 km and can attain speeds of up to Mach 3.5. Due to its lesser radar cross-section, the BrahMos-NG is more difficult for enemy air defence systems to locate and engage. The BrahMos-NG will have an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar instead of the mechanically scanned radar on the BrahMos PJ-10. The Sukhoi Su-30MKI will be able to carry five BrahMos-NGs at a time, instead of only one BrahMos. MiG-29s and the indigenous TEJAS will also benefit from the BrahMos-NG, as will be the newly inducted Rafales reportedly. “India’s combat power will increase exponentially with the lethality, versatility and portability of the BrahMos-NG and BrahMos-2. With the threat from China growing by the day, the BrahMos-NG will potentially be a force multiplier for the Indian armed forces,” said another senior defence official.