'No equivalent to air-launched BrahMos in the world': BrahMos CEO

Atul Dinkar Rane, CEO and MD, BrahMos Aerospace, says many countries want BrahMos

60-Atul-Dinkar-Rane Atul Dinkar Rane | Arvind Jain

What do you do, a guest asked a young man at a party. The young man answered: “I am a missile scientist with the DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation).” The retort, with a hint of accusation, was: “Don’t you feel guilty that you are creating a weapon of destruction which will be used to kill people?” The missile scientist’s response was swift and sure: “I do not work on killing people. I work to defend my nation. There is no conflict in my mind.” That clear focus has helped; three decades later, the scientist leads a missile project that is a game-changer for the Indian military and its industrial complex. Atul Dinkar Rane, 59, is now the CEO and MD of BrahMos Aerospace. Of disarming disposition, Rane has a throaty chuckle that he puts to frequent and easy use. Recently, he spoke to THE WEEK on the variants of BrahMos, export potential and going hypersonic. Edited excerpts:

People have showed a lot of curiosity. Be it NATO countries, many of the western countries, all across the world. They all want to have the BrahMos. One foreign naval chief said, ‘I do not want to be on the wrong side of this missile. I want it on my side.’
LCA Tejas equipped with the BrahMos NG (next generation) and the Astra missile, totally Indian, is what we are looking at.

Q Called India’s brahmastra, the BrahMos is considered the decisive, war-winning weapon in the Indian armoury. What does it signify?

BrahMos is the best in its class. It is the only supersonic cruise missile in the triad of any armed force. There was literally no defence against it when we started. Today, we hear of a few anti-missile systems. But, we have not seen too much that would affect the operations of the BrahMos.

The Indian Navy has called the BrahMos its frontline weapon. It is installing it on all ships capable of carrying it. The Indian Air Force already has a squadron and, in May, during our users’ meet, the IAF chief said they are going to look at many more Su-30 squadrons with the BrahMos missile. I continuously call it a tactical weapon, but the IAF chief corrected me and said that it was a tactical weapon by definition, but it was a deterrent. That shows where the BrahMos sits today.

Q China has deployed the Russian S400 air defence system. How effective will it be against the stealth-capable BrahMos?

Right now, only a few countries have the S400. Because of the [low] reaction time from the launch of BrahMos to its impact, it is difficult for any surface-to-air missile to intercept it. A cruise missile is totally different from a ballistic missile and that is why we looked at a cruise. We are at low altitude and at very high speed. Defending against it will be tough. A supersonic cruise missile is literally impossible to intercept. Even if it is intercepted, you may intercept one or two or three. But you would not intercept a barrage or a salvo of four, five, six. That would definitely slip through. That is the whole philosophy of a cruise missile system.

Q But why has Russia not thought of inducting the BrahMos into its military?

The Russian P800 Onyx missile is the precursor of the BrahMos. The BrahMos is a much better version. The P800 was produced in Russia, it still is. They moved from P800 to another area of work and they are happy. We have been continuously looking at Russia as a market for the BrahMos. If they had purchased it then, they would have had a lot of things to use in the current situation.

After the ongoing situation in Europe ends, we might get some orders from Russia, especially for the air-launched BrahMos. They do not have an equivalent. There is no equivalent to the air-launched BrahMos in the world. I see that as a game-changer in terms of exports.

Q Which are the countries we have struck deals with for the BrahMos?

We did this first contract selling BrahMos to the Philippines Department of National Defence. It is meant for their marine corps. It is not a large order but it is a start. It has opened the doors for many other orders. Without doubt, the Philippines will be looking for more.

People have showed a lot of curiosity. Be it NATO countries, many of the western countries, all across the world. They all want to have the BrahMos. One foreign naval chief said, 'I do not want to be on the wrong side of this missile. I want it on my side.'

Since we broke in with the Philippines, the southeast [Asian] nations are our first potential customers. Quite a few nations are talking to us. The Middle East is also interested. There are a couple of Latin American countries looking at it closely and we are in talks with them. There are a few African countries, too. So we are in talks with about a dozen countries.

The BrahMos is expensive. The buying country has to think hard whether it needs the weapon. And also decide on whether there is a need to show a bigger alignment with the selling country.

Q What are the various variants of the BrahMos and what are the future plans?

The current BrahMos is capable of being land-launched from mobile autonomous launches in coastal battery formation or land attack formation. It is capable of being launched from ships for anti-ship or land attack, from the air―anti-ship and land attack. We have also proven underwater (submarine) capability.

Next is a miniaturised version―BrahMos NG (next generation)―for air launch. We see massive business sense in that. We are designing it for the LCA Tejas. It would be able to carry two BrahMos instead of just one now. We have finished the preliminary design and are getting ready to cut metal. We will be doing trials with the Su-30 first, not the LCA, because we know its interfaces well. We are designing for the LCA with the idea that it becomes a total package. LCA Tejas equipped with the BrahMos NG and the Astra missile, totally Indian, is what we are looking at.

After that we will move to other aircraft. The big advantage is that once we are able to put the BrahMos on the LCA, we will be able to put it on any western platform.

Q We have a vibrant defence production ecosystem now. Did the BrahMos actually predate this?

Exactly. When we began BrahMos, the industries said: 'Assure us a large order and then we get into production.' That was not possible because developing and designing a system takes time. Also, we did not know the numbers. Initially, our orders were just for 12 missiles for the Navy, 30 or 40 for the Army as a test case; later, expanded to a regiment.

So the numbers were small. But it was the management of BrahMos Aerospace and the vision of those industry giants, who said that there seems to be some future in this article, that has been proven now. About 25 years later, we have been producing and integrating approximately 100 missiles a year. The numbers―missiles delivered and orders booked―are mind-boggling. If we calculate from day one, the revenue totals about $6 billion (close to Rs50,000 crore, at current conversion rate).

So the industry has learnt that we do not need to wait for a huge volume order. We can start small provided that we see that there is a future.

Q Are you saying that the BrahMos spawned a kind of ecosystem in our defence industrial complex?

That is right. With the formation of the BrahMos Aerospace, the idea was to get into production as soon as possible. Within three years, we managed to design the missile, integrate it and do a test in June 2001. And as early as 2004, we got our first order. At the start, the missile was only 13 per cent Indian. We have upped this to 76 per cent. This was possible because of the industries who chipped in almost immediately. The public sector, the private sector, all chipped in and literally became partners.

It was not that these companies were given money to start their manufacturing. They put in the money themselves. Today we have more than 200 manufacturing industries on board as part of our supply chain. This model was a first. In a way, we started the ‘Make in India’ movement and the ‘Atmanirbharta’ movement.

Q Can the BrahMos be nuclear tipped?

Our warhead is small, up to 200kg. That partly answers the question as a nuclear missile needs a bigger warhead. If it stays conventional, it can be used. The day it becomes nuclear-tipped, one would find it very difficult to be used.

Q Our neighbours are rapidly evolving into hypersonic missile technology. What is the shelf life of the BrahMos at its current state of development?

If we started out with deliveries in 2005, we are less than 20 years in. It is a missile which will be used for a long time. Even today subsonic missiles are being used all over the world. So the supersonic missile is always a plus. Hypersonic is another plus. The costs also go up the same way. Who knows, BrahMos [may] go hypersonic one day.

We are looking at the BrahMos NG first because that makes business sense. We will go hypersonic or look at hypersonic once the actual technology stabilises. Right now it is only R&D. There is no cruise weapon as such inducted into the forces which is fully hypersonic.

The ballistic missiles are hypersonic, they go at Mach 6-plus. But they are not cruise missiles. The cruise hypersonic, which is the scramjet-based hypersonic (the ramjet can just about touch hypersonic), is still in R&D. We are working on ramjet going to Mach 4.5 to Mach 5, which is the start of hypersonic. But, a lot of work is required.