Off to A Flying start

It was a hot summer forenoon of May 1, 2013, when I, as chairman Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) had a strategic discussion with CEO of Brahmos Aerospace, at his office at Kirby place, New Delhi. During discussions he enquired, whether HAL had technical capability for Brahmos integration on Su-30. He also told that the OEM-Russian Company has offered to do it at a cost of $200 million (Rs 1,300 crore approximately). But he was not sure after spending so much money, if any technology learning benefit would accrue to India. Air marshal Arup Raha, vice chief of IAF (who later took as IAF chief in December 2013) and an officer whom I highly admired, in another meeting confirmed that this integration will be a game changer for IAF besides technological confidence and make in India opportunity as at a later stage 40 Su-30s would need such modifications.

Our designers at Nasik facility of HAL went into detailing of the issues and challenges involved and a few months later, we confirmed to Brahmos Aerospace that HAL & IAF both are now confident to take up the challeneg. However, there was another challenge: Dr Pillai, CEO Brahmos, indicated that he has a budget availability of only Rs 80 crore for this project (against OEM’s demand of Rs 1,300 crore) and he requested HAL to do this task within Rs 80 crore. Considering the financial limitation of Brahmos, HAL board, under my leadership on November 26, 2013, took a historic decision that even if HAL will not make profit on this task, it will be a good project, and will be undertaken in national interest and also will show case the technical upgrade capabilities of HAL. 

It was for the first time in the history of HAL that it decided to absorb the design and development costs, waive off the profit element and contingency costs and finalise a technology project for a payment of only Rs 80 crore. This decision shows that when positive synergy is developed between IAF and the industry, the cost element becomes secondary and it is national pride, competence and technologies which come to the fore.

I am so happy that now, four years later, on November 22, 2017, a Su-30 combat aircraft of Indian Air Force took off from Kalaikunda base carrying a 2.5 tonne BrahMos Missile with the task of test firing it over a target in the high sea in the Bay of Bengal.  It was a copy book style successful trial in the first ever efforts where in BrahMos missile struck a sea based target, located 260 km away with a high degree of precision and perfection.

We celebrate this success in two ways.  First, the integration of BrahMos Air Launch Cruise Missile (ALCM) greatly enhances IAF’s ability to strike heavily defended targets deep into enemy territory up to the range of 2,100 km. (3,900 km with refueller).  Even if BrahMos is fired from Su-30, while remaining within Indian borders a strike range of 290 km is available for attack into enemy territory.This means there will be a paradigm shift in the way tomorrow’s confrontations will be held.  In active wars, the toto priority is to first destroy the strategic enemy locations and defence infrastructure like nuclear weapon batteries, etc.  BrahMos will provide India with these capabilities.

 

Second, this test firing is an active demonstration of how the indigenous technical capabilities have been developed in the country. Presently more than 100 Indian companies involving 20,000 specialists, engineers and technicians work on BrahMos manufacturing and technical modifications in India. In the present case, the modification of Su-30 for BrahMos integration involved safe stores separation analysis consisting of wind tunnel and CFD analysis.  Water tight NMG of the aircraft had to be generated from 2D drawings.  The structural modifications have to be within the aircraft centre of gravity (CG) envelope and in such a way that it does not alter the vibration characteristics. Carriage and release actuation along with electrical and avionics integration is another challenge.  FTI (Flight Test Instrumentation) for the operations along with missile system software modifications also need to be undertaken.  This all was done by consortium of Indian industry led by HAL as a lead integrator.

The economic prosperity and technology prowess of a country depends on how the scientific and technological community of that country come together on the projects of strategic importance. For this Su-30  – Brahmos integration, apart from IAF, HAL and BrahMos Aerospace, many other agencies like RCMA, DGAQA, CEMILAC, NAL, AST, SDI, MSQAA, NEUCON, and ZEUSS NUNERIX worked together towards the timely completion of this project.

Su-30 – Brahmos integration is just a beginning. The technology and know-how developed on this project should now be leveraged in development of upgraded Su-30 (SUPER Su-30) with stronger structures, better avionics and radars and more effective combat capabilities. The combat capabilities need to be developed in a way that a impregnable combat cover of at least 1,500 km depth is created around all Indian borders — at land as well on high seas.

With this trial now BrahMos missile has achieved the challenges of integration into all the three versions for navy, land and air attacks.  Indian army already has three regiments of BrahMos and now is working on missile’s block III version, which has steep dive, trajectory manoeuvre and top-attack capabilities.  Navy has also deployed it on ten of its frontline warships. Now IAF plan to integrate total forty      Su-30s with BrahMos launch capabilities.  I understand that BrahMos Aerospace will now be working on the hypersonic version (5-7 Mach) with extended range of 600 km.

We wish BrahMos Aerospace for all the success in their future ventures and also compliment all the participating technology agencies for this exemplary technological achievement.  We are indeed proud of you.

 (The writer is president, Aeronautical Society of India)