For the first time, evidence from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) reveals that the latest and most advanced variant of one of India’s most closely-guarded weapon systems — the indigenous, dual-role, extended-range BrahMos cruise missile — works out to about Rs 34 crore ($4.85 million) each.
On Thursday, the MoD announced that the Navy had ordered the ship-borne version of the supersonic BrahMos “at an overall approximate cost of Rs 1,700 crore under the Buy-Indian category”.
The announcement revealed that the BrahMos missile systems being acquired were “dual role capable,” meaning that they could destroy targets on land, while also having the ability to strike enemy warships.
The MoD did not reveal the number of missiles procured through the latest contract. However, this information was inadvertently revealed through an official MoD photograph that accompanied the announcement.
The photograph of the contract document stated that it was an “agreement between (Brahmos Aerospace and the MoD) for supply of 35 combat and 3 practice Brahmos missiles for two Project-15B ships.”
The two Project-15B warships that will receive these BrahMos systems are being built in Mazagon Dock, Mumbai (MDL). They are the destroyers, INS Visakhapatnam, and INS Mormugao.
Approximately Rs 200 crore would be spent on each destroyer’s missile launchers, command centre, and radar, reveal sources in BrahMos Aerospace (BAPL) — the Indio-Russian joint venture (JV) that builds the BrahMos missile. That leaves about Rs 1,300 crore for 38 BrahMos missiles, putting the cost of each missile at about Rs 34 crore ($4.85 million).
This is significantly higher than earlier estimations that the Army and Navy paid about $3.2–3.5 million for each of their BrahMos missiles. However, those earlier missile variants had ranges of just 295 kms, while INS Visakhapatnam and INS Mormugao will be armed with longer-range missiles that can strike targets out to 400 kms.
The range of earlier versions of the BrahMos was kept below 300 kms, since the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) places this range restriction on sales involving a non-MTCR country. India was admitted into the MTCR only in 2016, after which Brahmos could legitimately build missiles with ranges above 300 kms.
A costlier BrahMos variant is the air-launched cruise missile (ALCM), which is carried in an under-belly pod by the Sukhoi-30MKI fighter. Developed by the IAF, Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) and the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO), this is half a tonne lighter than the regular BrahMos and shorter by about 50 centimetres.
While the BrahMos ALCM is the lightest and the shortest, it is not the cheapest. In October 2012, the Union Cabinet allocated $1.1 billion to IAF for acquiring 200 BrahMos ALCMs. That puts the unit cost of the BrahMos ALCM at $5.5 million.
One reason for the higher cost is that each BrahMos ALCM functions autonomously in its launch and command and control functions, since it would be launched several hundred kilometres from base, out of range of the regular BrahMos command and control centre. Each ALCM launcher has its own command centre, a “peripheral control device”, which checks the health of the missile before it leaves the launcher.
Paradoxically, the BrahMos ALCM effectively has the longest range of all the variants: over 1,000 kms. It is carried for several hundred kilometres by the Sukhoi-30MKI. After it is released from the fighter, it can travel another 300-400 kms, under the missile’s own propulsion system.
India has been promoting the sale of the BrahMos missile system to partner countries in the Indo-Pacific, such as Vietnam. However only the Philippines has actually inked a contract for the BrahMos: A $375 million deal for the anti-ship variant of the BrahMos.
With the Pentagon’s expenditure figures placing the cost of the latest variant of the US Tomahawk missile at below $2 million, the cost of the BrahMos might just be too much.