Deterrence Posturing

Deterrence Posturing

Fielding BrahMos strengthens India’s conventional defense strategy

Debalina Ghoshal

India and China are strengthening their defense capabilities, particularly when it comes to conventional strength against each other. India has been watching Chinese military developments along the 4,057-kilometer de facto border between the two nations known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

In August 2016, the Indian government signaled the Indian Army to induct the ramjet-powered, 290-kilometer-range supersonic BrahMos cruise missiles in the border state of Arunachal Pradesh as a credible weapon system for mountain warfare.

Developed jointly by the Russian Federation’s rocket design bureau and India’s Defence Research and Development Organization, the missile can travel at a speed of Mach 2.8, roughly three times the speed of sound. It has a maneuverable trajectory to help dodge enemy missile defense systems. With a range of 290 kilometers, the missile can take a steep dive of 75 degrees.

With an advanced guidance system, the missile can make precision strikes. The missile is capable of performing an “S” maneuver just a few minutes before impact to frustrate interception, thereby increasing its survivability and ability to launch lethal strikes. Experts consider the missile to be “low observable” with “penetration capabilities.”

The joint Russian-Indian venture, known as BrahMos Aerospace, is working to achieve a 90-degree steep dive. This capability would enable the missile to hit targets hidden behind mountain ranges. The Times of India newspaper reported in August 2016 that the 90-degree capability in the future could lead to acquiring an aircraft carrier-killing capability. The BrahMos is the fastest anti-ship cruise missile in operation.

Broader induction

The missile has been in service with the Indian Army since 2007. The Indian Navy has already inducted the missile system, which can be launched from submarines, ships, aircraft or mobile launch vehicles on land. The Indian Air Force will also induct a smaller, air-launched version for its Sukhoi-30 MKI, India’s premier twinjet multirole air superiority fighter licensed to and manufactured in India. The development and integration of the system is already at an advanced stage.

India’s Arunachal Pradesh regiment would be the fourth BrahMos regiment cleared at a cost of 4,300 crore rupees or 43 billion rupees (about U.S. $674 million). The 864 regiment of the 41st Artillery Division in Arunachal Pradesh would be assigned to operate these missiles. The regiment would consist of 100 advanced BrahMos Block III missiles with the steep-dive capability, five mobile autonomous launchers on 12-by-12 heavy duty trucks and mobile command post and a mobile replenishment vehicle. The previous regiments inducted early versions of the BrahMos, known as Block I and II, with missiles designed to strike small targets with low-radar cross-sections in a cluttered environment, according to The Times of India.

The launcher is mobile in all kinds of terrains. Three BrahMos missiles, placed in three individual containers, are installed on each launcher. The missiles can be fired in single or in salvos of two to three seconds within four minutes of receiving a command, making them capable of quick reaction.

China has already warned India about inducting the BrahMos in Arunachal Pradesh. Officials believe it could have a “negative influence” on border stability, and they argue that such weapons systems pose threats to Tibet and Yunnan provinces, according to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA’s) official newspaper, the PLA Daily. China further argues that the missile, with its steep dive capabilities, “could increase the suddenness and effectiveness of attacks.” The missile could also give “crushing blows on time-sensitive targets like missile launchers and solid targets like command centers,” the PLA Daily reported.

To “maintain peace and stability along the India-China border is an important consensus reached by the two sides,” Col. Wu Qian, Chinese Ministry of Defence spokesman, asserted during an August 2016 media briefing. “We hope the Indian side can do more for peace and stability in the border region rather than contrary,” he added, according to an account by India’s notion of “counterbalance and confrontation,” he said, were behind the induction move as “deterrence to China to create a military advantage in the boundary.” He noted, however that the missile has a “relatively short range that cannot threaten China’s deep zones.”

Meanwhile, top Indian Army officials responded to China’s assertions about the BrahMos, telling NDTV in August 2016: “Our threat perceptions and security concerns are our own, and how we address these by deploying assets on our territory should be no one else’s concern.”

Contentious border 

The border dispute between India and China over Arunachal Pradesh is nothing new. Many skirmishes in the 1962 Sino-Indian War were fought in this area. Although the nations agreed to the LAC in 1996, China claimed the entire area in 2006. Border infiltration by Chinese soldiers across the Arunachal Pradesh border has been a concern for India in the intervening years as tensions have mounted. China has also referred to Arunachal Pradesh as Southern Tibet.

In 2007, China refused to issue a visa to Ganesh Koyu, an Indian administrative officer who was to visit China on a study tour. The Chinese argued that since Koyu was from Arunachal Pradesh, which China believes belongs to them, Koyu did not require a visa. Beijing has also expressed dissatisfaction with then-Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh in October 2009 in advance of state assembly elections. China’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement that said Beijing was “strongly dissatisfied with the visit to the disputed region by the Indian leader,” according to The Hindu newspaper. In July 2016, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Harish Rawat confirmed incursion of Chinese soldiers into Indian territory along the 350-kilometer border shared between Uttarakhand and China.

Some years back, China had replaced DF-3 liquid-fueled ballistic missiles deployed on the border with India with DF-21 solid-fueled road mobile ballistic missiles, which are capable of delivering nuclear and conventional warheads. The DF-21s are deployed in Delingha in the central Qinghai province and can reach targets in India. Delingha also hosts China’s intercontinental range ballistic missile called DF-31s and DF-31As that could reach targets in India.

India’s BrahMos missiles, on the other hand, are capable of delivering conventional payload with a capacity of 300 kilograms. India has deliberately restricted the range of BrahMos to 290 kilometers and 300 kilograms. There are two reasons for this. First, Russia, which has jointly developed the missile, is a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and could not have jointly developed a ballistic or cruise missile exceeding the range of 300 kilometers and 500-kilogram payload. This is because the MTCR defines a nuclear-capable missile as having a range of 300 kilometers and above and a payload of 500 kilograms and more. Second, keeping the missile below the 300-kilometer range enables India to export the missile system to friendly neighboring states under the MTCR norms. Countries such as Vietnam and the Philippines, which also have territorial disputes with China, have expressed interest in purchasing the missile system.

Recently, India also acquired the MTCR membership, although China has not. China, however, has denied India membership into the Nuclear Suppliers Group on grounds that India has not acceded to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This was strongly asserted by China’s Foreign Ministry’s head of arms control department, Wang Qun, when he stated, “Applicant countries must be signatories of the treaty of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.”

Threat Deterrence

China’s long-range DF-21s and DF-31s cannot be compared to India’s short-range BrahMos, some experts argue, because DF-category long-range missiles can reach targets inside India while BrahMos would not be capable of doing so. However, BrahMos would serve as a tactical deterrence weapon for India to strengthen its conventional capability versus China. India already possesses the Agni V, which has a 5,000-kilometer range, and is also working on an even longer-range missile, the Agni VI, which can have an intercontinental range of 10,000 kilometers.

Russia is also building the SA-21, a long-range (400 kilometer) surface-to-air missile (SAM) system with anti-theater ballistic missile (TBM), low observable (LO) and low-flying aircraft capabilities that will be exported to China in 2017 and potentially India in 2020.

Indian researchers are also testing the next generation of BrahMos missiles, which are a smaller, faster and stealthier version of the bigger missiles. India is also working on BrahMos-II, which is a hypersonic cruise missile capable of reaching Mach 7 speed.

In addition, the Indian Army is set to procure M777 155-millimeter, 39-caliber, towed gun ultralight howitzers from the United States. The Indian Army is raising the 17 Mountain Strike Corps in Arunachal Pradesh, which was approved in 2013. In May 2015, there were reports that efforts to build new roads, strategic railway lines and key location points for basing more military assets were underway, although India is behind China in terms of infrastructure developments in the border region. India has also increased deployment of troops on India’s side of the region as well as increased support from armored regiments and artillery.

Though China has a “no first use” policy in its nuclear doctrine, it does not apply to territories that China claims. Thus, Arunachal Pradesh remains a concern because China claims the territory.

According to reports, China has also increased its defense capabilities and increased deployment of troops along the border. China has 13 border defense regiments with at least 300,000 PLA troops. Apart from this, China’s sea-based nuclear deterrence is also a threat to India.

India’s induction of the BrahMos missiles in Arunachal Pradesh is sending a clear message to China that it will respond in kind to Chinese aggression in the region and elsewhere. India’s move seems to be working already to enhance its conventional deterrence capability.