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South Asia , Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft

The Indian Air Force Equips its Most Potent Fighter with Mach 3 Nuclear Capable Cruise Missiles

November 09th - 2017

The Indian Air Force fields among the world's most potent fourth generation fighters, the Russian made Su-30MKI. While renowned for their long range, maneuverability and advanced air to air combat capabilities, India's Sukhoi fighters have recently been modified to carry the country's most lethal nuclear delivery systems - the Brahmos cruise missile. India's nuclear forces are currently able to strike from land, from the air and from the sea - but the ability to arm what are by far the most capable fighters in its fleet with some of the most capable cruise missiles in the world improves the capabilities of the air arm of the nuclear triad. With the Su-30 having a range of 1,800 km, which can further be extended with in air refueling, and with the Brahmos itself able to strike targets over 250 km away, the pairing of the two platforms will allow India to strike far from its own borders - across the length and breadth of Pakistan and across much of China's own territory.

The Brahmos is a supersonic nuclear capable cruise missile in service since 2006 and serving in all branches of the Indian military. Jointly developed by India's Defense Research and Development Organization and Russia's NPO Mashinostroeyenia, the missile is capable of reaching Mach 3.0 - making it the fastest cruise missile in the world. Anti ship and surface to surface variants have been in service in the country's Navy and Army respectively, but the commissioning of the missile into the air force poses a new and arguably more potent threat to India's potential adversaries. Since 2009 India has sent Su-30 fighter jets to Russia to explore the potential for fitting the Brahmos onto its fighters. India's Strategic Forces Command (SFC) has so far received 42 Su-30MKI air superiority fighters modified to carry BrahMos supersonic cruise missile. With India set to field almost 300 of the lethal Sukhoi fighters in future, more of these may well be upgraded to carry the Brahmos in future.

As a result of its speed the sheer power of the Brahmos upon impact gives it significant strike capabilities, and it has been known to cut warships in half during testing. The missile's speed meanwhile also makes it far more difficult to intercept, and a more reliable delivery platform for both conventional and nuclear strikes. As the United States demonstrated with the meager effect of its Tomahawk missile strike on Syria in early 2017, the damage done by low speed and low payload cruise missiles is often minimal while they leave themselves vulnerable to interception. Footage of the Syrian airbase struck by around 60 cruise missiles from the US Navy showed the facility to be relatively unscathed - with several sources stating that several of the missiles had been intercepted prior to striking. The Brahmos gives India far superior strike capabilities.

Should the pairing of the Brahmos and Su-30 prove successful, it could well further incentivize India to persue the Su-57 based FGFA program with Russia to acquire fifth generation equivalents of the Sukhoi fighter. Should these stealth platforms also be equipped with Brahmos missiles it would give the the Indian military a truly lethal strike capability unrivaled by any military except that of Russia itself. The successful integration of the Brahmos missile onto the Su-30MKI is a milestone for India's military development and for its military cooperation with Russia - which alongside its program to upgrade the Su-30 fighters could well further strengthen ties between the Indian Air Force and Russia's military and lead to closer cooperation in future.

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