NEW DELHI — India and Russia have approved an extension to the range of the supersonic cruise missile BrahMos, doubling it to 600 kilometers, according to an official with the Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD).
The official pointed out that the range of the joint venture missile can now be increased because of India's entry into the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), which provides the country with opportunities for foreign collaboration on the missile technology.
The two countries came to agreement Oct.26 at a meeting here of the 16th Intergovernmental Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation, co-chaired by Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and his Russian counterpart, Gen. Sergei Shoigu.
The increased range of the BrahMos will double the standoff engagement range to 600 kilometers for practically every platform that uses the cruise missile. Currently, the BrahMos is warship-launched and land-based, while the air version is still in the testing phase and likely will be adopted by year end.
"With 300-kilometers range, the BrahMos had to be deployed relatively closer to the intended area. Now there would be greater flexibility in terms of deployment areas, thereby imparting surprise," according to Rahul Bhonsle, a retired Indian Army brigadier and defense analyst.
The BrahMos cruise missile project is produced by India-based BrahMos Aerospace, set up in 1998, and is a joint venture between India's Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and Russia's NPO Mashinostroyenia.
According to a scientist at DRDO, "only very minor changes in software and hardware are required" to increase the range.
An Indian Navy official backed this claim. "BrahMos is a re-engineered version of [the] Russian P-800 Oniks/Yakhont anti-ship missile, and no major modification is required to achieve 600-kilometers range," the official said.
Bhonsle agrees that the range of the BrahMos missile currently in use has a 600-kilometer range.
"There have been a number of assertions in the past from unspecific sources that the range is actually around 600 kilometers," Bhonsle said, adding that if it were true, modifications to the missile would likely be for stability and accuracy improvements and "not necessarily to enhance range."
"However, this does not preclude extensive testing to accurately assess varied parameters," he continued.
In 1998, India received the transfer of technology for the BrahMos cruise missile with a range of less than 300 kilometers because India was not yet a member of MTCR.
"The Indian Army has always preferred a cruise missile over a ballistic missile as the cruise missiles can fly at lower height — evading radars — and hit targets accurately," an Indian Army official noted.
India has been developing the Nirbhay cruise missile for more than seven years, but the indigenous project is only at the testing stage, and its timeline for induction is unknown. DRDO has not tested the Nirbhay ever since it failed a test in October 2015.
Bhonsle believes the improved BrahMos capability could damage the development of the Nirbhay missile.
"The Nirbhay program, which is DRDO's cruise missile project, may now be given a quiet burial or remain a technology demonstrator as most of the indigenous program[s] of the organization have been of late," Bhonsle said.
The DRDO scientist, however, noted that the two supersonic missiles involve two different configurations: BrahMos has a medium-range capability, whereas Nirbhay has a larger 1,000-kilometer range.
Vivek Raghuvanshi is the India correspondent for Defense News.