Vladimir Putin may not have spoken strongly against Pakistan-sponsored terrorism against India at the recent BRICS summit in Goa, deferring to his Chinese friends, but old friend Russia may have quietly let it be known that it is willing to help India hit Pakistan where it hurts. Literally. For, the two countries are now likely to take their cooperation on the potent Brahmos cruise missile miles ahead -- by about 300 kilometers to be precise.
In the first concrete benefit of India's entry into the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) group in June this year, India and Russia may work to extend the range of Brahmos from the current 290 km to 600 km, according to a report in the Economic Times. The paper said this was part of the slew of agreements reached between India and Russia on the sidelines of the BRICS summit, but had not been made public so far.
Brahmos CEO Sudhir Mishra told OneIndia, however, that he could "neither confirm nor deny it", adding that such an agreement between India and Russia could have been arrived at at a political level but he had received no official word on it yet. Technologically, he said, extending the missile's range would pose no problem at all.
As per MTCR rules, its members cannot export or jointly develop missiles of range greater than 300 km and warhead capability of greater than 500 kilograms. Russia has been an MTCR member for long, while India was a pariah to that group until a few months ago. India had, in fact, wanted the Brahmos missile to be based on Russia's mid-range P-700 Granit missile, but had to settle for one based on the short-range P-800 Oniks due to the MTCR restrictions.
The Brahmos (a portmanteau of Brahmaputra and Moskva rivers) missile, jointly developed by India's Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Russia's NPO Mashinostroeyenia and produced by a joint venture of the same name based in Kerala, is already among the world's most advanced cruise missiles, in fact the fastest cruise missile, travelling at 2.8-3.0 mach and able to carry a 500 kg warhead, nuclear or conventional, with versions that can be launched from land, aircraft or ships and submarines.
India has also been working continuously on highly sophisticated versions of the missile that can carry out several missions. One such is 'steep dive capability' -- the missile can rise up and dive down almost vertically, a useful capability when fighting an enemy in the mountains; another is 'target discrimination' -- which means, the missile can pick and hit an individual target in a crowd. "You can pick up any door or window for a target", Mishra said, indicating that it could be used for a 'surgical strike' against high-prized targets. Both the 'steep dive' and 'target discrimination' capabilities, requested by the Indian Army, have been proven, he added.
The Indian Air Force is in the process of testing and inducting the air-launched version on its frontline Sukhoi fighters, while the Indian Navy will outfit its newest ships and submarines with anti-ship versions of the missile. The increased range of the missile will enable India to undertake stand-off warfare at a distance or strike deep into enemy territory. Will India also seek to increase the warhead capability?