BrahMos-II and LR-LACM, could be India’s ‘hypersonics’

IDD Explainer

India’s successful test of a hypersonic cruise missile  carrying vehicle, paves the way for the two separate types of missiles to benefit from the technology. One, a long range missile that will travel faster than the existing BrahMos  cruise missile and two, a versatile long range land attack cruise missile (LR-LACM) launched from multiple platforms.

The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), an entity under the  Ministry of Defence, said the test, conducted on Monday , Sept 7, was a success. The test was for a hypersonic air-breathing scramjet technology and was conducted from Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam launch complex at Wheeler Island, off the coast of Odisha, a state on the rim of the Bay of Bengal.

To explain, a scramjet engine operates at hypersonic speeds and allows supersonic combustion getting the name; Supersonic Combustion Ramjet, or Scramjet. In June 2019, the Indian Science Research Organisation (ISRO) tested a scramjet -engine powered Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle (HTDV). Monday test by DRDO was the next step.

An Indian statement explained the launch saying a solid rocket motor took the missile to an altitude of 30 km. Thereon the aerodynamic heat shields were separated. The trajectory indicates multiple options. Read it here

“The cruise vehicle separated from the launch vehicle and the air intake opened as planned. It went on the desired flight path at a velocity of six times the speed of sound – that is nearly 2 km per second for more than seconds”.

Indian Statement

The critical events of test like fuel injection and auto ignition of scramjet demonstrated technological maturity. The scramjet engine performed in a text book manner. The parameters of launch and cruise vehicle, including scramjet engine was monitored by multiple tracking radars, electro-optical systems and Telemetry Stations, the DRDO said. The scramjet engine worked at high dynamic pressure and at very high temperature.

The Brahmos and LR-LACM

The Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle (HTDV), once matured can be used to power the BrahMos missile – a joint venture between India and Russia. The existing version  files at 2.8 Mach and the range is around 300 KM only. The Hypersonic version would be traveling at 6 Mach, that is almost double the speed  of the BrahMos  and travel atleast for 600-800 kms.

The LR-LACM , already tested six times, will have a range in excess of 1,000 km and will be capable of being launched from the same Universal Vertical Launcher Module (UVLM) used by the BrahMos.

The Nirbhay test in Dec 2019

The missile of range of 1000 kms or more was first sought by the Indian Navy. Trials or developmental flights could start anytime now for the missile which would have a high-degree of local content. The LR-LACM is an upgrade over the indigenous subsonic cruise missile, the Nirbhay, but with greater range and better accuracy. The seeker and motor of the missile have been developed from existing technologies by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). The LR-LACM will have the ability to be launched from truck mounted launcher and also a naval warship. The DRDO is working to have a air-launched version as well as a submarine launched version.

Why the hypersonic race

Hypersonic weapons, has triggered an ‘arms race’ of sorts. After the unmanned aerial vehicles and beyond visual range missile systems, the hypersonic missile travelling  at several times the speed of sound, are seen as the next frontier.

The Cruise vehicle used by India

China, Russia, and The United States are each trying to outdo the other to acquire and induct the hypersonic weapon. China announced in 2018 that it had conducted the first successful testing of a hypersonic aircraft.

The available intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) re-entry vehicles – the US , Russia and China have those — also travel at superfast speeds. The hypersonic is deadly as it glides  at lower altitudes making, tracking and intercepting nearly impossible. Moreover, hypersonic weapons allow the capability to destroy critical enemy infrastructure with far more ease since missile defence shields are unlikely to work. Hypersonic missiles can carry conventional or nuclear payloads.

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