The BrahMos Test and its Implications for the Current State of Strategic Relations between Pakistan and India

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Image credit: http://www.brahmos.com

by Musawar Sandhu 3 June 2019

The BrahMos which derives its vocabulary from the two rivers, the Brahmaputra in India and Moskva in Russia is claimed to be the world’s fastest cruise missile according to the Indian defense ministry’s latest press release. This Supersonic Cruise Missile is the culmination of a joint venture that was laid out in 1998 between Russia and India. On May 22, 2019, a day before the Indian general election results, India successfully test fired an air-launched ramjet-powered version of the BrahMos Cruise missile from a Sukhoi Su-30 MKI fighter jet. Boasting a range of 185 miles (300 kilometers) and the top speed of 2140 miles (3,450 kilometers) per hour, this missile is also claimed to be equipped with stealth technology rendering it undetectable by radar. The Indian defense ministry further maintained that the launch of the missile was quite smooth, and it followed the desired path before hitting the target at pinpoint accuracy.

The BrahMos has already been successfully tested from a submarine, naval ship, and land-based platforms. With the air launch of the BrahMos, India has purportedly acquired its long-sought strike capability from vast standoff distances onto land and sea-based targets. Since 2016, India, as a member of the Missile Control Technology Regime (MCTR) also intends to sell this weapon system on the International market with a particular focus on South African and Southeast Asian states. The BrahMos has been highlighted as a product of the numerous technological advances made by its arms industries as part of its effort at greater indigenization. This move thus serves as one of the critical steps taken towards India’s ambition of becoming a net exporter of arms, as opposed to one of the world’s largest importers as it is today.

This addition to India’s existing Missiles capability has important ramifications for Pakistan. For example, India intends to induct two squadrons of the Su-30 MKI fighter aircraft modified to be equipped with the BrahMos cruise missile. This would considerably enhance India’s standoff and first strike capabilities against Pakistan, altering the strategic balance. India has always endeavored to create space for limited war with Pakistan remaining well within the threshold of nuclear deterrence. With the inclusion of the BrahMos in the modified Su-30 aircraft, the strategic balance between Pakistan and India is likely to have grave implications for existing peace and stability in the South Asian region.

Within the post-Pulwama scenario where two Indian aircraft was shot down by Pakistan’s air force, there emerged specific gaps in India’s air warfare capabilities. This test can be thus seen as an attempt to address these gaps while adding to its overall capabilities. Being the world’s fastest cruise missile, it also acts as an anti-ship weapon with piercing ability that would pose a serious threat to Pakistan’s land and naval assets as well.
Pakistan in response successfully tests fired its all-weather, nuclear payload-capable ballistic missile Shaheen –II a day after the Indian test. This was carried out as a training launch aimed at ensuring the operational readiness of Pakistan’s strategic forces’ capabilities. This test, however, may not be termed as a direct response because both systems have been designed differently, keeping in mind their specific objectives.

As per the official statement of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), Shaheen –II fully meets Pakistan’s strategic goal of maintaining its desired level of deterrence stability in the region. As a result, this test was aimed at projecting that any misadventure by India in the form of preemptive or counterforce strike would be dealt with an all-out attack on counter value targets instead.

It thus follows that India, with its relatively broader economy and ambitions to dominate the region, is currently provoking Pakistan into a costly arms race which it cannot afford at the moment. India, on the other hand, can afford the expensive defensive capability of a multitier Ballistic Missile Defence System (BMDS) spread across its territories. In this regard, there is a consensus among Pakistan’s various diplomats, scholars and military planners that it should avoid indulging in an arms race with India, and instead should focus on enhancing the quality of its penetrative strike capability including second strike vis-à-vis India.

Hence, coming back to the implications of the latest test of the BrahMos, the missile race in South Asia has become immensely complex and multilayered with the introduction of supersonic and stealth capabilities. Both Pakistan and India, have to show some restraint for lasting peace and stability is to be maintained within the region. Since both countries share a 3323 Km border (including Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu & Kashmir sector) with each other, any minute miscalculation in terms of detection, reaction and short flight times of the missiles may prove catastrophic for the entire region. In this regard, it is thus imperative that there exist sensible leadership on both sides that priorities restraint especially because their actions directly affect the lives of almost one-fourth of the world’s population.

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