A recent government decision to accelerate the integration of supersonic BrahMos cruise missiles into frontline warplane Sukhoi 30MKI (SU-30MKI) is expected to give the Indian Air Force (IAF) total superiority over subcontinental airspace, media reports suggest. Some military experts think that India's multirole air superiority fighter weaponised with the missiles jointly developed by India and Russia could have prevented even the half-hearted Pakistani attempt scrambling a formation on February 27 to breach Indian airspace. IAF planes drove back the formation of several warplanes of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) a day after bombing the Balakot terror training facilities to avenge the Pulwama terrorist strike, in the process shooting down a PAF F-16 while losing a Soviet-era MiG-21.
The move, considered strategically significant, began soon after the Balakot air strikes in which Su-30MKIs and MiG-29K aircraft provided cover to Mirage 2000 Bison multirole fighters that flew deep into enemy territory to surprise Pakistani air defence and bomb Jaish-e-Mohammed training camps in Balakot.
State-run aircraft maker Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) and the BrahMos Aerospace (BAPL), an Indo-Russia joint venture, are implementing the project, according to a PTI report. India's defence authorities have sought to advance the deadline for the completion of the integration project from December 2020, it says.
BrahMos is rated among the world's fastest supersonic cruise missile travelling at 2.28 Mach or close to thrice the speed of sound. Indian has successfully tested the airforce and naval variants of the 2.5-tonne terrain-hugging missile that can take out targets nearly 300 km away. As the missile flies at a low altitude a few metres away from treetops, it is nearly impossible for enemy radars to track its course until the last few minutes. "In this context, the government decided to take a series of steps to bolster the IAF's overall combat capability which included fast-tracking integration of BrahMos missiles into Sukhoi jets," the report said quoting an unidentified source as saying.
Though the project to arm India's best 4.5-generation multipurpose fighter with BrahMos air-launched variant into more than 40 Sukhoi fighter jets began in 2016, it was going at a crawl, reports say. The integration of the missile in the Sukhoi aircraft is a complex process involving mechanical, electrical and software modifications of the Su-30MKI fighter, sources say.
Meanwhile, reports show the government has launched several measures to strengthen the IAF's combat prowess. HAL has been advised to put additional manpower to speed up all such projects.