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Could the missile have been stopped before it hit the ground?

Specific parts to the question:

  1. Does the BrahMos missile command and control center have the capability to steer the missile if they realize that the missile has been misfired? Or, is it fire & forget?

  2. Does the BrahMos missile have a "self-destruct" option?

  3. Can retargeting or self-destruct be deployed before the missile hits the ground in 3 minutes?

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The answer to what I presume was your real question - "Could the missile have been stopped before it hit the ground?" - is "No". In detail on the subquestions:

  1. Likely. The Brahmos missile is loosely based on (more like "inspired by") the Granit missile that does have an onboard datalink for target selection. There's no confirmation that Brahmos has the same, but it's reported to be a very sophisticated missile, so it's probable.

However, the launch platform is unlikely to have the ability to use this datalink. It's possible for a combat aircraft - altitude gives comm range, and aircraft are under the singular authority of their crews, so they may be able to do this in time. It's somewhat possible for a ship, while there is a line of sight.

Ground launchers cannot communicate with missiles once they have been fired. This is, if nothing else, due to the horizon effect. Ground launchers are also less sophisticated in general.

Such communications are encrypted. The encryption keys are generated and exchanged at missile boot-up (in modern documented military encryption protocols). If the missile misfired, it doesn't have a datalink established, so no one is able to communicate with it.

  1. Very likely yes, most such missiles do have a self-destruct capability.

The first Brahmos entered service in 2005 (in many ways, it was ready in 2002), but it's been an ongoing development and modernization project for at least a decade since. Specifically the flight control system and software were modernized and refined in India.

Another Indian missile, tested in 2013, was self-destructed, indicating that India does like this feature in their missiles. Self-destruct is a software feature, so, even if the original missile didn't have it, India had the opportunity to add it in the modernization process.

As with retargeting, communicating with the missile may not be possible, especially from the ground. Again, it would only be possible with a properly initiated launch, not a misfire. Self-destruct implies an encrypted link - you don't want the enemy to be able to just turn your missile off.

  1. No. Not realistically.

It's possible if you expect the missile to potentially veer off course, and are actively monitoring for that event, and are trained and pre-authorized to take that action. This high readiness happens when you're test-firing a missile.

For a missile that has been accidentally fired on the ground during maintenance, as reported, the answer is a resounding no.

First, the maintenance crew has no authority over the missile and its target selection or self-destruct (if present). They also don't have enough time to figure out what's going on, who has the authority, how to contact them directly, what exactly to communicate, and so on. It's going to go up and down the chain of command.

Second, the fire control module isn't in the TEL (transporter-erector-launcher) truck. The land-based Brahmos missile uses a separate command post vehicle.

If the missile truly misfired, rather than was fired by mistake, that means the issue most likely occurred within the missile or the TEL. The command post in this case most likely wouldn't even be online.

Third, a misfired missile might not have all of its own computers properly started and set up. If it's just the engine that started, there's nothing to control the missile. Since Brahmos is supersonic, it must've had a working flight control system, but many other systems could still be offline or improperly initialized.

P.S. Related: How can a supersonic cruise missile be intercepted?
Anti-ship missiles are built to deal with attempts to shoot them down. So the design principle is "fail-deadly". If radar and comms are destroyed, the missile will try to hit its last target point. A misfire without proper target input is likely to be treated the same way as combat damage.

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  • $\begingroup$ It's worth noting that the Nirbhay is a newer generation of missiles. which wasn't even operational in 2013, when that article was written; those were qualification tests. So assuming the older BrahMos has the same capabilities is not 100%. It's not clear to me why you think BrahMos "uses Indian avionics". The BrahMos is a pretty close derivative of the P-800 Oniks, at least form the outside. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 28, 2022 at 1:06
  • $\begingroup$ Your other points on them not having enough time to react even if they had the capability is entirely reasonable though. It looks like the whole event took like 7 minutes, and the missile veered towards Pakistan after a couple of minutes, so that would have made decisions even more complicated. Also, cruise missiles do have the ability to load pre-plotted courses that contain pre-planned route changes, so some kind of pure software / data-load error can't be ruled out. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 28, 2022 at 2:12
  • $\begingroup$ Unfortunately, I haven't see altitude changes on that course. The P-800 normally has a lo-hi-lo attack profile (it's a tradeoff with range on supersonic missiles like the BrahMos), which would have made tracking mid-course easier, but if it was staying low for some reason (error or pre-planned data) that would have made tracking it hard even for the Indians. Actually, it [looks[(thebulletin.org/2022/03/…) like it reached 40,000 feet in altitude, which suggests that they could track it. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 28, 2022 at 2:17
  • $\begingroup$ OTOH, even though they have a deconfliction line, neither side called (same source) which makes some think the event happened too fast for either side's command and control to make much in the way of decisions. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 28, 2022 at 2:25
  • $\begingroup$ But this was not fired from a normal test range, so the usual tracking capabilities for that kind of event were probably not deployed in the area. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 28, 2022 at 2:32

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