India and Russia are planning to develop an advanced version of Indo-Russian cruise missile BrahMos, which will be capable of shooting down Airborne Warning And Control System (AWACS). In a first, India-Russia will be transforming large, high-speed, sea-skimming anti-ship missile into a long-range air-to-air missile (AAM).
Alexander Maksichev, the co-director of Russo-Indian company Brahmos Aerospace, which produces the Brahmos missile, has told the Russian media that a variant of the missile designed to engage airborne early-warning and control aircraft would be ready by 2024. The company’s plans also include the development of the hypersonic version of the BrahMos.
“We are expanding the range of targets for the BrahMos missiles,” Maksichev said speaking to Russian news agency RIA Novosti in September, adding that it will be capable of destroying air targets in a few years.
“That means that the platform will remain the same only with some modernization, but it will have different ‘brains’, that is, a different target seeking device to destroy a radar, that is, contrast target.”
AWACS is a mobile, long-range radar surveillance and control center capable of detecting and tracking incoming fighters, cruise missiles and drones at a distance of 370 km (200 nautical miles) and high-level targets at much greater distances. Called the “Eye in the Sky”, it also can track maritime traffic, and it operates in any weather over any terrain.
Currently, Brahmos anti-ship missile is in service with the Indian Navy and its land-attack variant is in service with the army. The air-launched variant, BrahMos-A, for the Indian Air Force is under production and will enter its inventory before the end of 2020.
A spur in India’s interest to acquire this class of weapons maybe because of the increasing numbers of AWACS with China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and Pakistan.
India and China have been in a military stand-off in the Himalayas along the Line of Actual Control for almost seven months, with no signs of disengagement of troops in sight despite several rounds of negotiations and talks at both military and diplomatic level.
On the northern border, India is engaged with China and its Western border in the Jammu and Kashmir region continues to witness ceasefire violations along the Line of Control from Pakistan. With both China and Pakistan being partners in the region, it is essential for India to have domination in the air domain.
Especially when PLAAF and PLA Naval Aviation together operate 29 AEW&C aircraft, including four KJ-2000 Mainring in the air force, and around 30 tanker aircraft, as per the Military Balance+ database. On the other hand, Pakistan only has ten AEW&C aircraft.
Douglas Barrie, a Senior Fellow for Military Aerospace, however, doesn’t find designing and developing a new missile for such a limited number of targets as a good idea. “With the associated cost might be a less attractive option than first trying to adapt, or at least use elements of, an already in-service system,” he writes in Military Balance+.