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India adds teeth to world’s fastest cruise missile as China tensions mount

Audio 04:02
The launch of a cruise missile.
The launch of a cruise missile. AFP/ECPAD
9 min

India has kicked off a flurry of tests of a supersonic cruise missile against a background of border tensions with China. The military is hard at work to add speed, range and accuracy to the country’s most advanced projectile, developed jointly with trusted ally Russia.

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The latest test in December involved a naval variant of the BrahMos cruise missile, another sign of India’s growing reach in one of the world’s busiest maritime corridors in the Indian Ocean.

“We need a weapon of this capability to send a message – ‘Do not mess with us in the Indian Ocean’,” Anil Jai Singh, vice president of the Indian Maritime Foundation, told state TV.

Military engineers hope to tune up BrahMos to be more potent than ever before, said Pradeep Kumar Srivastava, a former director of India’s missile-producing enterprise, Bharat Dynamics Ltd.

“We have the capability of the submarine version also. It has not been fully tested but technology demonstration has been done,” Srivastastava told national RSTV.

The missile test was the second such naval exercise since October.

Army and air force both testing missiles

Last month, the army and air force carried out separate trials with theBrahMos, which can fly at nearly three times the speed of sound.

 “It is a show of strength to the Chinese, we will hit where it hurts,” said defense analyst S.K. Chatterji, a retired army brigadier.

Since July, India has tested other projectiles as well, including a hypersonic weapon on 7 September.

Once developed, it will fly at twice the speed of BrahMos, which is swifter and heavier than the American Tomahawk cruise missile.

India, China border stand-off

India has deployed BrahMos missile batteries on its flashpoint borders with China after the standoff led to a savage brawl last June, leaving 20 Indian troops bludgeoned to death.

China is believed to have suffered casualtiesalso, but has not given details.

India accuses China of cranking up tensions along their contested borders known as the Line of Actual Control or LAC.

“The Chinese have literally brought tens of thousands of soldiers in full military preparation mode right up to the LAC,” Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said a week after the latest BrahMos test.

The two Asian giants fought a brief but a bloody war in 1962 over a border dispute which remains unresolved, despite several rounds of talks.

Birth of a missile

In 1999, India and Russia launched BrahMos Aerospace, a 206-million-euro collaboration to develop and mass produce the world’s only supersonic cruise missile.

India tested BrahMos for the first time in 2001.

The name is a portmanteau of India’s Brahmaputra River and the Moskva (or Moscow River) which flows through western Russia.

Russia until recently accounted for nearly 70 percent of India’s arms imports and remains its most trusted frontline ally.

William Selvamurthy, a former military scientist, said India should try and marry BrahMos with missile technologies of other “friendly countries” to upgrade the arsenal of India, the world’s largest arms buyer after Saudi Arabia.

 “Then we could do things faster, better and with greater capability… the synergy becomes a force-multiplier.”

India has developed a range of tactical and ballistic missiles as part of a 1983 program that can transport nuclear warheads deep inside China.

“They are deterrents but the BrahMos is serious business,” commented an official who declined to be named.

“China knows that only too well.”

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